The first effective coronavirus vaccine is said to be able to prevent more than 90% of people from getting COVID-19, according to preliminary analysis.
BBC News reports that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries, and so far no safety concerns have been raised.
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The companies are expected to apply for emergency approval as soon as possible in order to use the vaccine by the end of the month.
While there’s still a number of challenges ahead, the announcement has been welcomed by scientists including Sir John Bell, Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine, who thinks life might be back to normal by spring 2021.
“I am probably the first guy to say that, but I will say that with some confidence,” said Bell.
Although there are around a dozen final stages still to take place – known as a phase 3 trial – this is the first to show any results. Using a completely experimental approach that involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code, the vaccine is said to “train the immune system”.
Previous trials have shown the vaccine trains the body to make both antibodies and another part of the immune system called T-cells to fight the coronavirus. In order to be effective, two doses are needed three weeks apart.
The trials, which have been held in the US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey, have achieved 90% protection seven days after the second dose has been administered.
Pfizer believes it will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. The UK should get 10 million of these doses, with a further 30 million doses already ordered.
There are also still a number of questions that need to be answered, such as how long does immunity last, does the vaccine work as well in high-risk elderly people, does it stop you spreading the virus or just from developing symptoms?
The logistics of distributing the vaccine will need to be addressed, as it has to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80C.
Dr. Albert Bourla, the chairman of Pfizer, said: “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.”
Prof Ugur Sahin, one of the founders of BioNTech, described the results as a “milestone”.
Hospital and care home staff will be prioritised along with those at the highest risk from COVID-19. This likely means that face masks and social distancing measures are likely to continue to be a feature of our lives for some time to come.
However, no vaccine has gone from the drawing board to being proven to be highly effective in such a short period of time.
What this means for the future of live events, festivals and indoor entertainment is not quite clear yet, but if we do get the vaccine before the end of the year and it does prove effective then there’s a possibility that the industry could begin to rebuild.
It also means that the “massive testing arrangements” that Michael Eavis recently said might need to be put in place for Glastonbury 2021 might not need to happen.
The planning framework is led by the Association of Independent Festivals, the Events Industry Forum (EIF) and Attitude Is Everything, alongside additional guidance from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Public Health England (PHE).
The advice comes after Reading & Leeds boss Melvin Benn said that testing will prove key in both events taking place next summer.
“COVID has given us a year off, so the innovation for next year is testing – everybody will be tested,” Benn told NME in September.