The race toward a workable COVID-19 vaccine had been an area of intense interest for the duration of the pandemic. Today, a glimmer of hope came in the form of a press release. An early analysis found that the COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was more than 90% effective at protecting people from COVID-19, Pfizer said in a press release on November 9.
It didn’t take long for U.S. President Donald Trump to weigh in on the promising (though not conclusive) analysis. “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!” Trump tweeted early Monday morning, taking a break from redistributing Fox News clips about the presidential election, which on Saturday was called in former Vice President Joe Biden’s favour.
In this tweet, Pence seems to be referring to a deal Pfizer struck in July with Operation Warp Speed, a project that uses federal resources to help accelerate the development, testing, and distribution of effective, safe vaccines and therapies to combat COVID-19.
But as they've made clear, Pfizer not did not accept money to help with the development or testing of the vaccine candidate. The $1.95 USD billion contract the pharmaceutical company signed with the federal government was specifically regarding distributing the vaccine. Once they had a working vaccine approved, Pfizer would use the money to provide 100 million doses to Americans, helping to support Operation Warp Speed's ultimate goal of producing and delivering "300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021." (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that a vaccine could be available to Canadians as early as the first three months of 2021.) So while Pence is right that there is a partnership, the arrangement between Operation Warp Speed and Pfizer didn't have anything to do with the trial's early success.
Companies such as Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson, on the other hand, accepted money to help develop or test their vaccine candidates, according to a fact sheet provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Pfizer, however, sunk $2 USD billion of its own money into the project, according to The Washington Post.
“We were never part of the Warp Speed,” Kathrin Jansen, a senior vice president and the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, told The New York Times. “We have never taken any money from the U.S. government, or from anyone.”
Jansen also made clear that Pfizer has no agenda. Yes, the promising results were made public this morning, shortly after the presidential election was called in favour of Biden — but that was just because the company had received the results on Sunday afternoon, she told The Times. "We have always said that science is driving how we conduct ourselves — no politics,” Jansen said.
Pfizer hasn’t yet responded to Refinery29’s request for comment.
While these results are a step in the right direction, they have not been peer-reviewed or published yet, and it's too soon to say for sure whether the promising early results will bear out. "We need to see the actual data, and we’re going to need longer-term results,” Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University, told The New York Times.
If all continues to go well, the Food and Drug Administration would need to give emergency use authorization before the vaccine could be distributed. Pfizer plans to ask the FDA to approve their vaccine candidate — which is a shot that's given in two doses, three weeks apart — in the third week of November. So far, no major safety concerns have been reported thus far in the trial. There are 11 other late-stage COVID-19 vaccine trials.
While many are taking issue with the White House's attempt to seemingly take credit for work they weren't involved in, that shouldn't blot out the fact that these early analysis results are fantastic news. “Today is a great day for science and humanity,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and CEO, said in Monday's press release. "With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”