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COVID-19: Light at the end of the tunnel?

2020 has been, to coin a familiar term this year, “unprecedented” for a whole multitude of reasons – but with the recent preliminary analysis indicating that an effective coronavirus vaccine has been developed, the end may very well be in sight.

Following Pfizer’s announcement that their collaboration with BioNTech has resulted in a positive efficacy results from the Phase 3, late-stage study of their potential COVID-19 vaccine – with more than 90% of clinical trials candidates found to be effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection[1] – across the Globe an audible sigh was collectively released.

What makes the breakthrough in the vaccine “arms race” across the globe remarkable, is the fact that results themselves are a triumph to the men and women who have worked tirelessly these past months to get reach these late stages of vaccine development. For context, the winter flu jab administered annually across the UK protects around half of recipients – so results of 90% from the 43,500 people participating in the trials is extraordinary.[2]

The devastating impact of the virus has been well documented. In the UK, unemployment rates rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, up 0.3%, whilst figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate redundancies have risen to a record high of 314,000 – exceeding even the levels seen in 2008 during the Financial Crisis.[3] All this, despite the national Furlough scheme introduced by the Government in March 2020, and extended now through until March 2021.

Upon the announcement the FTSE 100 rose 1.7% registering the highest it has been since March this year, reflecting an increase of 12% in November alone[4] – albeit with some influence from the US Election results. Celebrations have been tapered though, with both Government advice, and Scientists warning that there is still some way to go before normality returns. Indeed, the Prime Minister announcement following Pfizer’s update reiterated the need to adhere to the measures in place UK-wide, and underlined the need to continue to wear a facemask whenever out and about. Whilst the vaccine developments can be considered light at the end of the tunnel, it is by no means ready to go, nor will it mean life will immediately return to normal: there remains thorough safety checks from regulators to ensure it meets quality standards, whilst mass manufacturing and distribution will take time several weeks too.[5]

It is anticipated that the rolling out of the vaccine will be ranked by priority as a combination of clinical risk stratification and an age-based approach[6] – so that care providers and recipients of care will be the first to have access to the vaccine. In turn, this should lead to the relaxation of localised (and national) Lockdown’s, whilst the advancement of mass testing should ensure the UK becomes a lot more resilient to shielding measures currently imposed to fight the infection rates.

Capping an extraordinary day, it cannot be understated the outstanding work of thousands of individuals in the Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences industries of late. Typically requiring years of Research and testing before reaching Clinical Trials, a concerted, focussed effort has been made to fast track a solution to the global pandemic, resulting in processes being completed in record times. Despite this, presently there are 52 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 87 preclinical vaccines under active investigation in animals.[7] A truly extraordinary feat of achievement.

As the developers – Pfizer and BioNTech – noted, it is indeed a great day for science and humanity.

Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker – By Jonathan Corum, Sui-Lee Wee and Carl Zimmer Updated November 10, 2020 – courtesy of The New York Times

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[2]  BBC News: Covid: Who will have the Pfizer vaccine first and when can I get it? URL: Date Accessed: 10/11/2020

[3] BBC News: UK unemployment rate continues to surge URL: Date Accessed: 10/11/2020

[4] The Guardian: FTSE 100 vaccine rally continues; UK unemployment jumps – business live URL:  Date Accessed 10/11/2020

[5] The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine: When Will It Be Ready and Everything Else You Need to Know URL: Date accessed: 10/11/2020

[6] JCVI: updated interim advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination URL: Date Accessed: 10/11/2020

[7] The New York Times: Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker URL: Date Accessed: 10/11/2020