Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

The COVID-19 vaccine: Everything you need to know

South Africa has the highest case numbers of COVID-19 on the continent. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is one of 11 coronavirus vaccines now in late-stage trials.

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement on Monday 16 November that South Africa has 752,269 detected COVID-19 cases. The country also has the highest case numbers of COVID-19 on the continent and is the 14th most-affected country globally.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced on Monday that their prospective vaccines had proven 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in ongoing final-phase trials involving more than 40,000 people.

MORE VACCINES IN LATE-STAGE TRIALS

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is just one of 11 potential coronavirus vaccines now in late-stage trials.

Purvi Parikh, MD and co-investigator on the trials, said: “If Pfizer already has promising results, other trials may have some good news soon as well.”

Moderna, which uses similar technology to Pfizer, has developed a second vaccine which is reported to be 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19.

US coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN: “These are obviously very exciting results. It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.

“One difference between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is that the Moderna version does not have to be stored at as cold a temperature, which could make distribution easier.”

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Pfizer is reportedly going to ask the FDA for fast-tracked emergency authorisation of its vaccine. Image: Adobe Stock

PFIZER TO FAST-TRACK APPROVAL

Pfizer and any other drug makers with a promising vaccine trial, will have to finish collecting two months of safety data before the vaccine can be approved by the US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Pfizer will be done collecting this information in late November, and plans to ask for fast-tracked emergency authorisation from the FDA, according to the New York Times.

VACCINE NEEDS TO WORK AND BE SAFE

The FDA is responsible for making sure any fast-tracked vaccine not only works, but is safe.

“The vaccine must go through a minimum of three phases before approval, the last being the most thorough with a minimum of 30,000 individuals tested, especially those in high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and racial groups with health disparities,” Parikh said.

UNKNOWN IF VACCINE IS SAFE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN AND CHILDREN

There are still some unknowns, like whether or not a vaccine will be safe for children or pregnant women. Pfizer announced in October that it would start testing its vaccine in kids.

There are no trials that include pregnant women, who are more likely to suffer from serious complications of the coronavirus.

Parikh said: “We will need that data to determine safety as every group is different.”

SIDE-EFFECTS OF THE VACCINE

“Like any vaccine, there will likely be some side-effects, but so far participants in the clinical trials have shown only mild reactions,” Parikh said.

“Most commonly we have been seeing muscle soreness, fever, and pain at the injection site. In all cases, side effects fully resolve in a couple of days.”

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Coronavirus vaccines are unlikely to be seen in pharmacies in the short term, as high-priority groups will get it first. Image: Adobe Stock

IMMUNITY TIME FRAME FROM THE VACCINE

Experts don’t know how long immunity from the coronavirus vaccine will last. The vaccine may offer protection for life, or it could act more like the flu vaccine and last only a few months.

VACCINE SHOULD BE FOR EVERYBODY

It is uncertain whether the millions of people around the world who have had COVID-19 and recovered will need to get a vaccine. A vaccine trial run by Astra Zeneca is including recovered patients in its trials, but the Pfizer trial does not.

Parikh said: “As we learn more we will have better guidelines, but I personally feel as an immunologist that everyone should receive it as we are seeing cases of reinfection and some are more severe the second time.”

VACCINATIONS TO START IN 2021

According to Pfizer it will have manufactured enough for 15 to 20 million people by the end of 2020 if its coronavirus vaccine is approved by the FDA.

Tinglong Dai, associate professor at the John Hopkins University and an expert in healthcare supply chains, said:

“Existing doses will be distributed and administered to high-priority groups, especially essential healthcare workers, so in the short term, we may not see coronavirus vaccines in local pharmacies.”

Parikh said: “I am hoping no later than the middle of 2021, but people have to be willing to be patient, as the entire world is clamouring for the same vaccine”.

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