Experts say the COVID-19 treatment could be available for some by the end of this year.

Rebecca Norris
Nov 13, 2020 @ 2:10 pm
Advertisement
Credit: Getty Images

Now that the pandemic has forged on for over nine months, people all over the world are wondering if maybe, just maybe, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is becoming less deadly, simply because they’re getting tired of staying holed up in their homes, being away from family and friends, and missing out on the simple luxuries of the life they once knew. Unfortunately, considering how infection rates are on the rise across the globe and at an all-time high here in the States, that’s a wish, not a reality.

Fortunately, however, there’s been some seemingly good news. Ever since Pfizer announced that its vaccine—which was created with the German drugmaker BioNTech—is 90% effective in a press release on Monday, November 9th, people all over the world have been flocking to Google in hopes of learning more about the potentially safe treatment for COVID-19. After all, if rising infection rates are of any indication that we’re struggling with this new life, then it’s clear we’re ready for this pandemic to be over.

While doctors around the globe speculate that it may be quite sometime before society returns 100% back to normal—and that’s if it ever does—the Pfizer vaccine might help speed up the process, even though it is still in its preliminary stage. To learn everything there is to know about the vaccine—including ingredients, side effects, availability, and more—keep reading.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine study

According to the press release, the third phase of the clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine study kicked off in July, and Pfizer enlisted 43,538 people—none of whom had prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19)—to participate. While the pharmaceutical corporation hasn’t divulged just how many of those participants received the treatment versus the placebo in the past four months—considering it was a blinded study in which only the independent board had access to who got what (not the participants, doctors, or even Pfizer’s highest-ranking executives)—they did share that the number of COVID-19 cases that occurred across both groups so far (94, to be exact) indicates that the coronavirus vaccine is more than 90 percent effective.

They were able to come to this conclusion because, of the 94 people infected, fewer than nine of them had received the two-shot vaccine. According to The New York Times, if those numbers hold up, that means that the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine is about as effective as those used for childhood vaccines for diseases like the measles—which is to say: very. To help put it further into perspective, know that the flu vaccine has a mere 40 to 60 percent efficacy. Curious about how such a widespread vaccine could be so middle-ground in efficacy? The FDA only requires vaccines to be 50 percent effective in order to be considered successful, so the Pfizer vaccine’s 90 percent is looking really good to scientists.

While Pfizer is currently in the limelight, it’s not the only pharmaceutical company with its hat in the ring. According to The New York Times' Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, 12 vaccines in total are currently in large-scale efficacy tests—Pfizer is simply the first to announce greater than 90 percent efficacy.

What’s in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine?

Pfizer is the first corporation to be in talks with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for fast-tracked approval, so it’s important to know what’s in the vaccine that might become available sooner than we think.

The Pfizer vaccine (as well as the Moderna vaccine, which is also hosting trials in the U.S.) is made with a genetic molecule called mRNA (aka messenger ribonucleic acid, an essential macromolecule for life). Once the mRNA—which is known to regulate gene expression—is injected into the body, it synthesizes a spike protein found in COVID-19 (which is responsible for the virus's ability to effectively grab onto cells) and prompts the body to recognize the virus and produce antibodies to attack it. So, while the Pfizer vaccine does create a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus, it’s important to understand that no, it’s not actually an injection of a live virus.

In order to work as suggested, the vaccine requires two doses spaced three weeks apart. Considering the efficacy of the drug was marked at seven days after the second dose, researchers conclude that the Pfizer vaccine is fully effective at the 28-day mark, or four weeks after the initial injection, according to the press release.

As wonderful as this sounds, it’s key to understand that the full study isn’t over just yet. Pfizer is conducting trials until 164 positive cases of COVID-19 present. Because of this, how the next 68 cases turn out will determine if the efficacy falters at all. 

Credit: Getty Images

Does the Pfizer vaccine have any side effects?

So far, the trial conductors have noted nothing more than mild aches and fevers, so side effects aren’t a grave concern at this point. In fact, the Pfizer vaccine side effects are on par with just about any other standard adult vaccine (like the flu vaccine, for example), according to William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, who shared the insight in an interview with STAT, an American health news website.

When will the Pfizer vaccine be available?

The answer is two-fold. The Pfizer vaccine may soon be given emergency approval by the FDA after submitting for that as early as the week of November 16th, according to the press release. However, once the FDA approves it, Pfizer will have to work with federal and state governments to determine where exactly it goes. And since the company envisions producing about 50 million doses by the end of this year, with only half going toward cases in the United States, that means only 12.5 million Americans could be vaccinated, given that each person requires two doses. While 12.5 million might seem like a lot, in a nation of 328.2 million, it’s really not. As such, just because the vaccine may become available in the coming weeks, that’s not to say it will be available to just anyone in the general public.

What’s the biggest holdup with the Pfizer vaccine?

Easily the biggest concern of the Pfizer vaccine—outside of its efficacy, of course—is how it will make it to those most in need. That’s because the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine storage temperature is well below freezing—specifically, around negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Considering most freezers sit between zero and five degrees, with some industrial freezers dipping into the negative 10s, finding a safe transport solution for the Pfizer vaccine has been a challenge. Luckily, scientists have come up with special coolers to fit the bill, though they’ll only maintain the vaccine’s temperature for up to 15 days—and that’s only if the dry ice that fills them is constantly replenished, according to the above New York Times article. In other words, the COVID-19 vaccine temperature requirements could very well play into which areas of the country will be first to receive the treatment.

Now the only question is whether or not people will actually be open to the treatment. After all, mass vaccination is no easy feat—just think about how many people refuse to get flu shots every year. And considering most vaccines take at least one to two years to make it through pre-clinical trials, public uncertainty lies with just how safe and effective these shots will be.