Pharmaceutical Companies Make Breakthroughs in Coronavirus Vaccine

By Karen Messer ‘24, Staff Writer

After many challenging months, the long-awaited coronavirus vaccine has arrived in New York. On November 9th, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE released early data of their collaborative vaccine, which will reduce the chances of someone with COVID-19 acquiring symptoms by 90%. Using RNA, Pfizer’s vaccine induces the creation of a viral protein in the body that protects you from the virus. With only 94 cases of coronavirus among the trial’s 44,000 volunteers, the vaccine seems promising. 

The solution is not perfect; the inoculation requires two doses, and immunity to the virus only lasts a year. Pfizer and BioNTech have only released their early analysis, which means that there is not enough data to show how successful the shot is for elderly people and other high-risk groups. It also remains unclear whether some people that get the vaccine will experience fatal infections and whether or not the vaccine can protect people from mild or severe cases. In addition, Pfizer’s shots must be stored at -94ºF (-70ºC), and therefore it may be challenging for certain areas to get the vaccine. Some countries might find that ultra-cold standards are too expensive, which  will put themselves at greater risk for not taking the vaccination. Another problem is that hospitals might fall short of shots, syringes, and medical glass due to the overwhelming number of people that need to receive the vaccine. Regulators are trying to manage and negotiate supply deals with the government that include how to get vaccines and treatments to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and out-patient facilities like nursing homes.

On November 16th, the company Moderna released preliminary data for a vaccine that is 94.5% effective. The company’s CEO, Stephane Bancel, called this a “game changer,” as only 95 of the more than 30,000 trial participants tested positive for COVID-19. Moderna collaborated with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to make the vaccine, and they say that when given the placebo (a saline shot that doesn’t affect one’s health, used as a control for the trial), 90 coronavirus cases were recorded. However, when volunteers took the two-dose vaccine, only five were recorded. Like Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna uses RNA technology for their vaccine, and, so far, it has been effective in limiting serious COVID-19 cases. Furthermore, Moderna says their vaccine only needs to be kept at 36ºF to 46ºF, the standard temperature of any refrigerator, and can be stored for up to 30 days. It can be stored for up to six months in negative four degrees Fahrenheit, meaning countries that can’t maintain a cold enough environment for the Pfizer vaccine can use this one. Towards the end of 2020, Moderna expects to have about 20 million doses of their vaccine shipped to the U.S. after getting emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna aren’t the only companies that have developed promising coronavirus vaccines. In fact, the companies’ results show that several other vaccines, over 320 of which are in development, have the potential to work as well. One example is Eli Lilly & Co.’s, whose vaccination is in testing. Other companies and institutions en route to coming out with a vaccine include AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consult with experts around the U.S. to decide who should get the vaccine first. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, approximately 20 million doses of different vaccines will soon be distributed throughout the country. Shots will be set up at different locations, with the vaccination campaign beginning immediately. While numerous companies are actively producing and testing new vaccines that could lower the risk of getting coronavirus for many Americans, this does not mean that the virus will disappear. Though vaccines will help minimize cases, wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing guidelines are still crucial to keep everyone safe. The emergence of a vaccine does not mean everything will return to normal, so while we may feel optimistic, we must continue to be careful as well.

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