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Editorial : Good news about US and European vaccines

【明報專訊】Some good news has emerged about the development of vaccines for COVID-19 in Europe and the US. A vaccine developed by Pfizer, a US drug company, in partnership with a German biotech company has an efficacy rate of over 90%. The news has given a fillip to the financial markets, which anticipate a resumption of economic activities. However, there is still a long road ahead in the global fight against the pandemic, and the expectation that the pandemic will soon come to an end is merely wishful thinking. At the moment the duration of immunity of the vaccine is unknown, while the problem of a production bottleneck must also be overcome. This is also a similar problem facing vaccines developed by mainland China. Even if the technical issues are all overcome, the anti-vaccine movements in Europe and the US also need to be dealt with. Many American people are believers in conspiracy theories about the pandemic and refuse to wear a mask, let alone getting vaccinated. Even if there is an abundant supply of vaccines, there is no guarantee that the pandemic can be controlled effectively.

China, the US, Europe and Russia are the four main forces in the global development of COVID-19 vaccines. Their research methods vary from region to region. From a scientific point of view, the more the options for vaccines, the more likely to overcome the pandemic. Regardless of which country develops the vaccine, it will be good news if the vaccine proves to be safe and effective.

The WHO now allows nations to vaccinate people at high risk of contracting the virus before the third phase of clinical testing is completed under an urgent vaccination scheme. On Monday Pfizer announced that the third phase of clinical testing of its vaccine had shown positive results, and the company would apply to the US government for authorisation for emergency vaccination at the end of the month. It is expected that 50 million doses can be produced by the end of this year, which will be provided for medical workers and people on the front line with two doses per person.

The Pfizer and BioNTech team is among the three major teams in vaccine development in Europe and the US, the other two being the AstraZeneca (a British drug company) and Oxford team and the Moderna team in the US. Nations are biased in favour of their own vaccines. Public opinion in the UK is optimistic about the Oxford vaccine, while in the US the Moderna vaccine is seen to be the leader in the field. In September clinical testing of the Oxford vaccine was suspended in many countries because of undesirable effects on participants. It was resumed very shortly afterwards in countries like Britain and India, but in the US it was resumed only recently, affecting progress in the development of the Oxford vaccine. This has given rise to all sorts of discussion and speculation. As for the Moderna vaccine, its progress has been slower than expected. As a result, the Pfizer and BioNTech team has become the frontrunner.

Given the short time frame devoted to research on COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Anthony Fauci, US disease control expert, says that a vaccine should be deemed as good enough if it has an efficacy rate of 60%, while the WHO has set the efficacy threshold at 50%. After an interim analysis of 40,000 participants in clinical testing of its vaccine, Pfizer has found that its efficacy rate is over 90%, much higher than expectation. The news has sent stocks soaring, as markets expect Europe and the US overcoming the pandemic and lives returning to normal. However, a series of key questions concerning how long the immunity will remain and how effective they will be on the elderly remain unanswered. The Pfizer management have only said that they hope the immunity can last for at least one year.

According to the procurement contract between Pfizer and Washington, the vaccine will initially be priced at around HK$150 per dose. This, however, will not necessarily be the price to be paid by other countries. Production capacity and storage are also matters of concern.

明報社評2020.11.11:歐美疫苗傳捷報 克服疫禍無保證

歐美新冠疫苗研究傳來好消息,美國輝瑞藥廠表示,他們伙拍德國生物科技公司合研的疫苗,有效預防率超過九成,市場反應亢奮,憧憬經濟復常,然而全球抗疫之路仍然漫長,以為疫情快將終結是一廂情願。輝瑞疫苗免疫效力有多久,目前並不清楚,生產瓶頸等問題亦需克服,內地研發的多款新冠疫苗,亦面對類似情况;即使技術問題一一克服,歐美還要面對反疫苗運動,美國很多人篤信疫情陰謀論,拒絕戴口罩,遑論接種疫苗,就算有足夠疫苗供應,也無法保證疫情有效受控。

全球新冠疫苗研發,中美歐俄是4股主要力量。各地疫苗研究方法不盡相同,從科學角度,疫苗百花齊放選擇愈多,克服疫情機會愈大。不管是哪一國研發出來的疫苗,只要證實安全有效,皆是好消息。

世衛容許各國以緊急接種計劃方式,在尚未完成第三期臨牀測試前,為高風險人士接種新疫苗。輝瑞周一宣布第三期臨牀測試結果理想,月底將向美國當局申請授權緊急接種,預料年尾可以生產5000萬劑,供醫護及前線人員使用,每人注射兩劑。

歐美疫苗研究三強,除了輝瑞和德國BioNTech團隊,還有英國藥廠阿斯利康與牛津團隊,以及美國Moderna團隊。「疫苗總是自家最好」,英國輿論看好牛津疫苗,美國輿論則視Moderna為領頭羊。牛津疫苗9月因為有參與者健康出狀况,暫停多國臨牀測試,雖然英國印度等地很快重啟,可是美國方面拖至最近才恢復測試,牛津疫苗進度受影響,事件惹來很多議論揣測,至於Moderna的進度亦較原先預期為慢,造就輝瑞BioNTech團隊領先。

新冠疫苗研究倉卒,美國防疫專家福奇表示,疫苗預防率若達六成已可「收貨」,世衛則將有效門檻定在五成。輝瑞對4萬名臨牀測試者做中期分析,疫苗有效預防率逾九成,遠超外界預期,消息刺激股市上漲,市場憧憬歐美脫困復常,然而輝瑞疫苗免疫效力究竟有多久、對長者的效用如何,一系列關鍵問題都未有答案,輝瑞高層僅說,期望疫苗免疫效力至少一年。

根據輝瑞與華府的預購合約,疫苗每劑初步定價約150港元,惟這不一定是其他國家日後洽購的價錢,另外還有產能和儲存問題。

■Glossary

生字

fillip : something that improves a situation or adds excitement or interest to sth

time frame : the period of time during which you expect or agree that sth will happen or be done

capacity : the quantity that a factory, machine, etc. can produce

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