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What has Pfizer/BioNTech achieved?


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The quest for an effective vaccine against Covid-19 has seen a significant step forward, with the announcement of "milestone" results.
Preliminary findings show a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19.

What has Pfizer/BioNTech achieved?​

They are the first to share data from the final stages of testing - known as a phase 3 trial.
This is a crucial point in vaccine development, where some experimental vaccines will fail.
The vaccine uses a completely experimental approach, which involves injecting part of the virus's genetic code into people, in order to train the immune system.
About 43,000 people have been given the vaccine, and no safety concerns have been raised.
BBC graphic



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So when will the vaccine become available?​

Pfizer believes it will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year, and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.
The UK should get 10 million doses by the end of 2020, with a further 30 million doses already ordered.
Exactly who will be immunised first will depend on where Covid is spreading when the vaccine becomes available and in which groups it is most effective.
The UK has not decided, for example, how to prioritise health and care workers who work with the most vulnerable people, relative to those most at risk if they catch the disease.
In broad terms, the over-80s, care home residents and health or care workers will be near the top of the list.
Age is, by far, the biggest risk factor for Covid, so the older you are, the sooner you are likely to be vaccinated.
Most experts think the vaccine will not be widely available until the middle of 2021.

What other vaccines are being developed?​

More results, from other teams working on advanced trials of other vaccines, are expected in the coming weeks and months.
There are 10 more vaccines in the final stage of testing,
The leading contenders are:
  • The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK
  • Moderna in the US
  • CanSino with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in China
  • Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia
  • Janssen
  • Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China
  • Sinovac and Instituto Butantan in Brazil
  • Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China
  • Novavax in the US
It is worth noting that four coronaviruses already circulate in human beings. They cause common cold symptoms and we don't have vaccines for any of them.



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Would a vaccine protect everyone?​

Not everyone responds the same to immunisation.
People will be watching the results in older people closely, because they are most at risk from the virus.
But history also suggests any vaccine could be less successful in old people because an aged immune system does not respond as well to immunisation. We see this every year with the annual flu jab.
It may be possible to overcome this by either giving multiple doses or giving it alongside a chemical (called an adjuvant) that gives the immune system a boost.

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