Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has developed a Covid vaccine that they claim is ‘more than 90% effective’ based on initial trials. But when will it be rolled out to the world, when will the covid 19 vaccine come to India and will it be free? N13 finds answers to 13 key questions.
American pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc has announced that its experimental Covid vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective based on initial trial results. Pfizer has developed the vaccine in partnership with German biotechnology company BioNTech. If successful, the vaccine will help the world crawl out of the deep crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and will also give other vaccine researchers new hopes in their pursuits.
But, besides the announcement of effectiveness, we are not sure how and when the vaccine will be distributed to the whole world. Here are 13 key vaccine-related questions answered.
1. How does the vaccine work?
Pfizer’s finding is called an RNA vaccine that trains our immune systems to fight coronavirus. Having learned the genetic code of the deadly virus, the vaccine makes a part of the coronavirus inside our bodies. But since it does not create a complete virus, we will not be affected by it. Instead, our body will detect that a foreign party is inside, and start attacking it with antibodies. The creation of antibodies rules out the chances of intrusion of the virus in the future.
2. How is it administered?
We need to take two doses of the vaccine, three weeks apart. Our bodies will be equipped to fight against the virus seven days after the second dose, or 28 days after the first dose.
3. When did Pfizer start research on the Covid-19 vaccine?
Pfizer announced its research partnership with BioNTech in April. They started testing four different vaccine variations in May on human participants in the United States.
4. How were the trials conducted?
Phase 3 was the biggest step in the trials of Pfizer’s vaccine research. They gave the vaccine or placebo to over 43,000 volunteers. Among the people who took part in the trial, 94 tested positive for Covid later. The research found that 90 per cent of these cases were in people who took the placebo and only 10 per cent in those who took the vaccine.
Pfizer has said 42 per cent of the participants at international trial sites and 30 per cent in the US were from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. The trial can be concluded only after 164 of the volunteers test positive for Covid.
5. How long will the vaccine be effective?
This is a question difficult to answer at this stage of the research. Even Pfizer does not know how long the effectiveness of the vaccine will last. However, the scientists hope that they can arrive at a conclusion as the trials continue for a few more months.
6. What are the other ongoing vaccine researches?
Besides Pfizer, companies like Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Valneva, GSK-Sanofi and Novavax are also at advanced stages of developing Covid vaccine.
Russia has announced that trials of its Sputnik-V vaccine have shown signs of success. They have rolled out the vaccine for public use in Russia, while late-stage trials are still going on. China has said it has developed a successful vaccine that is being made available to its Army. But there are question marks over the authenticity of claims by both countries.
7. How will the Covid-19 vaccine be distributed?
It is not yet sure how the vaccine will be distributed, but it is quite possible that rich countries will get it first, and the poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America at a later stage. To avoid this and make sure equal distribution of successful vaccines, the World Health Organisation has created a platform called GAVI. So far, 94 rich countries have signed an agreement with the WHO to ensure this.
However, the wide distribution of the vaccine will still be a challenge to Pfizer and various governments. The vaccine must stay in ultra-cold temperature storage, which makes the logistics even more difficult.
Mass production of the vaccine is also a challenge. But once they get a green signal, Pfizer is likely to sign agreements with different companies to produce billions of vaccines at a shorter time.
8. When will the distribution begin?
The US will be the first country to benefit from the Pfizer vaccine as they have an agreement with the company. Operation Warp Speed is an organisation that the US set up for the distribution of vaccines. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, has said they are setting up a programme, Tiberius, to ensure the track and trace of every dose of the vaccine. He also said the distribution will begin within 24 hours after the US government approves the vaccine.
9. When will India get it?
Although India falls on the lower side of the distribution graph, the presence of Serum Institute of India (SSI) is a boost for the country. SSI is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume. It has the support of GAVI and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. If WHO makes an agreement with governments and Pfizer or other vaccine developers for mass-production, SSI will also be involved in the process. Hence, India might also get a share of the initial production of vaccines and SSI could provide 10 crore (100 million) doses.
However, this does not mean everyone will get a dose. GAVI’s immediate plan is to bring down the number of deaths due to coronavirus. So, their target is to provide vaccines for 3 per cent of the population and help the vulnerable community and the health workers at risk.
10. Will the Covid-19 vaccine be free?
Various researchers have priced their potential vaccines at different rates. Pfizer’s vaccine is likely to have a price tag of $19.50 (Rs 1,500). Moderna has predicted $32-37 (Rs 2,400-2,700) for their vaccine, while Johnson & Johnson is planning to sell it for $10 (Rs 75). SSI has set its ceiling price at $3 (Rs 223). However, you may still not have to pay for the vaccine if the Central government decides to give it for free.
11. Does the Covid-19 vaccine have side effects?
Nothing in medicine comes without side effects. It is possible that the Covid vaccine also has side effects, major or minor, but we are not at a stage to determine this. However, the trials on 43,000 volunteers are safe so far as they have not had any side effects. But, there could be rare instances of side effects if it is distributed among billions of people around the world.
12. Will the virus mutate?
Viruses always mutate. The present coronavirus is also a mutated one. But the current vaccine, if successful, would be able to deal with the current virus. So it is possible, coronavirus would mutate into a different and deadlier form. But it could give us more time to be ready for such a scenario. The discovery of the current vaccine also gives us a platform to work on antibodies for future viruses.
13. What should you do now?
This is the most important question for each one of us. Now that the vaccine is close to reality, it is our duty to maintain the current social distancing norms and wait for our doses. It could take some time before the vaccine reaches us. But we should not get complacent or restless, but continue to follow the restrictions, wear masks, and help the world wipe out the virus.