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90% effective? Everything about the COVID-19 vaccine

Many people were overjoyed when the news for the COVID vaccination came out. However, after time to think, a lot of confusion and worry started appearing.

On the 8th of December, Margaret Keenan received the first COVID vaccine created by Pfizer. The UK has ordered around 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and pre-ordered millions more from other companies including Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna. The vaccine requires 2 doses, which are taken around 21 days apart.

Many people have concerns about the vaccine due to the short time frame, RNA conspiracies, and other theories. This is completely normal, and The Print will attempt to fact-check and explain a bit more about this for you to make your own decision.

Who is Pfizer/BioNTech?:

BioNTech is a German biotechnology company that manufactures disease treatments, as well as pharmaceuticals based on mRNA. Pfizer is an American pharmaceutical company, one of the largest in the world, which manufactures medicine for humans and animals. Both companies have joined to conduct trials and produce an effective Coronavirus vaccine. 

All about the vaccine:

The Pfizer vaccine is around 95% effective. This may cause a few concerns as it is not the full 100%, although the seasonal flu vaccines you may receive are around 42% effective against influenza B, 25% against Influenza A(H3N2), and 67% against another subtype of Influenza A and swine flu (H1N1). This does not mean you should not get the flu vaccine, as it does help boost your immune system, especially if you are vulnerable, decreasing thousands of deaths annually. Additionally, the vaccine trial included a very large cohort of 42,000 participants. 50% received the experimental vaccine, and the other 50% received a placebo. Overall, 170 people contracted the COVID-19 virus. 8 of these participants were in the vaccine group, meaning that the 162 people who contracted Coronavirus were in the placebo group.

Overall, around 5% of cases resulted from the vaccine group, which is where the 95% came from. The WHO had also said that this is a healthy number and they would be happy with 50%.

The trials: 

There were 3 phases of Pfizer vaccine trials, and we are now in phase 4. Phase 1 is when a small group of participants will test the vaccine or slightly different doses after it follows many lab checks to make sure it is safe. The candidates are continually checked to see which vaccine produces the best immune response. At the same time, there will be researchers and medical professionals to constantly check and report any side effects. Overall, normal healthy subjects are tested with the vaccine or a control placebo.

In phase 2, the cohort will be extended to a larger but still small group of around 20-80 participants who have similar characteristics to those that the vaccine is intended for. This will measure the safety aspects and immune responses, and determine the most effective dose while looking at side effects. This is a more in-depth phase as researchers will look for a range of side effects, such as headache or muscle pain. Safety is the main concern, as Dr. Douoguih says “We want to make sure that when it comes to safety, we’re taking precautions”. 

Phase 3 is when the vaccine is given to thousands of people worldwide with the disease. In this case, scientists will administer the COVID vaccine to thousands of healthy people, and those vulnerable to Coronavirus, in specific areas with the highest transmission rates. This will give researchers a clear understanding of the side effects, effectiveness, and safety. 

Phase 4:

If phase 3 is successful, phase 4 will begin. Clinical trial data will be checked, reviewed, and studied to make sure the COVID vaccine is effective and safe. The manufacturers, Pfizer, will need to submit an application to health boards such as the European Commission to check.

The UK was first in providing the vaccine, as due to leaving the EU, they had accelerated the authorization process by submitting an emergency application. This resulted in the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) formally reviewing and passing the vaccination for distribution. Even though phase 4 is complete, the final phase will carry on for years, as the vaccine and those vaccinated will be continually checked to make sure everything is regulated.

RNA: 

This subject caused concern throughout the world. Messenger RNA is the ingredient that carries instructions to create proteins to help fight the virus. The mRNA does not come from actual viruses and is delivered in a small sphere of fatty material.

mRNA in the body: 

The mRNA is active for a couple of days, and then rapidly decays.

mRNA was used because it comes from a DNA template in the lab. mRNA is needed to replicate the DNA. It carries genetic information from the DNA to ribosomes, to make proteins and replicate the DNA, which then results in helping the immune system combat the virus.

Due to the pandemic, scientists wanted the vaccine to be made as quickly as possible. The mRNA creates a route that is much faster, especially in unexpected pandemics. Compared to normal vaccines, which require large amounts of the virus/bacteria that have been weakened/destroyed, the mRNA doesn’t require the virus in the dose.

This page from Pfizer sums up the difference between the mRNA vaccine and conventional ones: https://www.pfizer.co.uk/behind-science-what-mrna-vaccine

Immunity: 

The immunity from Covid-19 is not completely known as the trials and approval are very recent. However, Ugur Sahin the co-founder of BioNTech (Pfizer) stated that he expects the immunity to last “months or even years.”

Please do rethink and research yourself if you have concerns about the virus, or talk to a GP/medical professional. A lot of the information on social media about the virus is incorrect and comes from fear, confusion, and a lack of education. Take this information and research yourself, as it is very important to get the vaccine to reduce the spread. However, if you are uncertain or concerned, there are no rules that say you need to get it. If you are currently immunocompromised, pregnant, or have severe allergies, tests are being done on this at the moment.

Be careful when seeing people who are vulnerable or at risk, as if you still have the vaccine yourself, you can still carry and spread the COVID virus. With this, stay vigilant, wear face masks, and practice hand washing and social distancing.

Stay safe!

 

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