Global experts cautiously welcome news of top Covid-19 vaccine candidate's effectiveness

  • Pfizer and BioNTech experimental vaccine 90% effective in early Phase 3 trials
  • Scientists say it's encouraging news, but must remain cautious
  • Given design and performance of this vaccine, it's good news for at least two other candidates

There have been more than 50 million Covid-19 cases recorded worldwide, but Monday saw some positive news on the vaccine front.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said its experimental Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective, as the drugmaker and German partner BioNTech SE were the first to release successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

The companies said they have so far found no serious safety concerns, Reuters reported.

"Today is a great day for science and humanity," Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chairperson and chief executive, said.

"We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen."

"I'm near ecstatic," Bill Gruber, one of Pfizer's top vaccine scientists, said in an interview. "This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we're now in."

But what did other experts think of the news?

Reuters reached out to a number of global expects for their reaction.

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton:

"This cautiously sounds like an excellent result from the phase 3 trials, but we should remain a little cautious. The provisional findings are made available in a press release, and the study is ongoing.

"However, if the final results show an effectiveness of anywhere near 90% with response in elderly and ethnic minority populations, that is an excellent result for a first generation vaccine.

"This has been seen before – the rapidly-produced ebola vaccine generated very high levels of effectiveness and exceeded all expectations.

"Equally, billions of dollars and numerous clinical trials have struggled to produce any form of vaccination against HIV. Science can be unpredictable."

Dr Gerd Fätkenheuer, Head of Infectology, Clinic 1 for Internal Medicine, University Hopital, Cologne, Germany: 

"These are great and promising data. It is incredible that in such a short period of time this progress with the development of a vaccine and clinical trials within a few months has been achieved.

"The results on efficacy and safety so far are excellent.

"I think this will have a major impact on our handling of the pandemic and I hope that large quantities of the vaccine will be available quickly. The researchers involved can only be congratulated".

Dr Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology, Imperial College, London:

In terms of the impact on the Covid-19 pandemic, "it's good news, but it's not 'overnight success' good news".

Altmann cautioned that this and other potentially successful vaccines would still need to be approved and delivered to people across the world, and this will still take many months.

He added, however: "I always felt optimistic, and my optimism remains strong."

Dr Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, Britain:

"It's hard to interpret the interim analysis, but it does appear very encouraging."

"In this... preliminary analysis there is a significant reduction in the Covid-19, and I interpret that to mean that ... individuals are not developing disease, but it doesn't tell us anything about whether people are getting infected or not."

Dr Marylyn Addo, Head of Tropical Medicine, University Medical Centre Eppendorf (UKE), Hamburg, Germany:

"These are interesting first signals, but again they are only communicated in press releases. Primary data are not yet available and a peer-reviewed publication is still pending.

"We still have to wait for the exact data before we can make a final assessment. At present, there are still few details about the exact data, for example regarding different age groups and in which groups the 94 cases occurred exactly."

Dr Bernd Salzberger, Head of Infectiology, University Hospital, Regensburg, Germany:

"In the Pfizer/Biontech press release, the Phase II/III placebo-controlled observer-blinded study with the vaccine BNT162b2 reported a vaccine efficacy of over 90%.

"Although only a few events - a total of 94 cases - have been observed in the study so far, this is a very good result.

"No serious side effects have been reported - overall a very positive result, which will probably lead to an early approval."

Dr John Moore, Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City, New York, United States:

"I can see nothing problematic."

"As for what this means for other vaccines, Moore said: "Moderna's is likely to work as well given the similar design and performance, and Novavax also, as it seems more potent.

"It's harder to judge about the other candidates."

Image credit: Getty Images

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