In the pandemic-ridden world a vaccine to stop Covid-19 has been the hope of the people. Earlier the vaccine which was said to take at least 18 to 24 months to develop is now said to be just “weeks away” from people. In the midst of the mounting fatality rates and the pressure to get world economies and people’s lives back on track nations are eager to roll out vaccines which are still in the stages of development. Countries including US, Canada and Britain have already started rolling out vaccines after approving them for emergency use. But questions still remain over the efficacy of these vaccines.
Days after the front runner vaccine candidate Pfizer, developed in America in collaboration with Germany’s BioNTech, was declared as 90-95% effective in handling Covid-19, reports emerged that four volunteers who were given the vaccine shots during the trial stage have developed Bell’s Palsy. Notably, Bell’s palsy is a medical condition that causes one half of the face to droop. UK’s Medicine regulator – the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), also issued an advisory warning against some of the possible allergic reactions to the vaccine. The warning came after two recipients of the vaccine reported anaphylaxis (a kind of allergic reaction involving swelling, hives, lowered blood pressure and in severe cases, shock) and one recipient reported a possible allergic reaction to the vaccine dose.
Interestingly earlier, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had cast doubts if the vaccine will help stop the transmission of the infection. During an interview with NBC’s Lestor Holt, the company’s CEO was asked if a vaccinated individual can still transmit the virus on to others. To which, he had replied, “I think this is something that needs to be examined. We are not certain about that right now with what we know.”
Despite questions about allergic reactions in people US government advisers have endorsed widespread use of Pfizer’s vaccine as Covid-19 cases surged to every-higher levels in US. Earlier Donald Trump and White House officials had complained for weeks that the FDA was moving too slowly. Next week, the FDA will review a second vaccine, from Moderna and the National Institute of Health, that appears as promising as Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot. A third candidate, which would require just one dose, is Johnson & Johnson which is working its way through the pipeline. Behind this is the AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covishield vaccine which is earmarked as the “vaccine for the world”.
India is among nations waiting for a UK nod before taking a call on Covishield. A large trial has shown that the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford is highly effective at stopping people developing Covid-19 symptoms. Interim data has suggested 70% protection, but the researchers say the figure may be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose. The Oxford jab is said to be far cheaper, and easier to store and get to every corner of the world than the other two. Among others who have applied for the emergency approval of their vaccines is the indigenously developed Covaxin by Hyderabad’s Bharat Biotech.
As the world races to manufacture millions of doses, many questions still remain unanswered over the vaccines which only further stages of trials can answer. For example, the Pfizer vaccine which is said to be 90% effective in blocking the symptoms of Covid-19 has not shown if it can stop the silent, symptomless spread that accounts for up to half of all cases. For now health experts are outweighing the risks against the potential benefits. They hope a combination of these vaccines will help the world conquer the outbreak of Covid-19. Experts in US estimate at least 70% of the US population will have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. That means it could still take several months before things start to get back to normal. In India, the government has reportedly said that some vaccines may be approved in the next few weeks.