Covid vaccine: Cautious optimism for an end to the coronavirus pandemic

Covid Pfizer vaccine

A joint announcement by the German biotechnology company BioNTech and the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced encouraging results of their Phase III trials for a new mRNA- based vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID Vaccine).

The companies have stated that their vaccine candidates induce antibodies as well as T cell responses against the virus and may be up to 95% effective. This announcement offers some hope that the coronavirus pandemic will end soon enough.

As of yet, their data are not publicly available and many questions remain:

  • How will vaccination impact severe infections?
  • Does the vaccine offer protection to different demographics, including high-risk groups? 
  • Is  virus transmission blocked by the vaccine? 
  • Will long-lasting immunity be achieved by this vaccine?

The study had over 43,000 participants and investigations have been ongoing since April; however, a much larger sample size and a longer duration are required to answer outstanding questions.

An additional challenge to address will be the temperature requirements of the vaccine: the vaccine must be stored at -80°C until administration; Pfizer is currently developing solutions to this cold supply chain challenge.

While many questions and challenges remain, the speed with which these vaccine candidates have progressed from proof-of-concept to demonstrating clinical efficacy is itself encouraging and optimistic.
Many scientists and other stakeholders have risen to the occasion in addressing the pandemic, demonstrating that urgency and innovation are key drivers of progress.

The scientists behind the vaccine

Prof. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci are the couple behind German biotechnology company BioNTech and its promising vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2. Prof. Sahin is the chief executive officer of BioNTech and a professor of medicine at the University of Mainz. Prof. Sahin completed his medical training at the University of Cologne and is a leading expert in individualized cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Türeci is the chief medical officer at BioNTech, a physician, and immunotherapy specialist. She completed her medical training at Saarland University.

Prof. Sahin speaking at the World’s top 50 Innovators 2019: