There’s been a rare case of Covid-19 good news today with the announcement that the Pfizer vaccine could be 90 per cent effective. Citing early results from the phase 3 trials of the vaccine, the pharmaceutical company said the initial findings marked ‘a great day for science and humanity’. While it’s still early days and the trial is not complete, the news has been cautiously welcomed by the government.
Speaking this lunchtime, the Prime Minister’s spokesman called the results ‘promising’ but warned ‘there are no guarantees’. With limited information available in terms of the full results from the trial so far, they went on to say: ‘we will know if the vaccine is both safe and effective once the safety data is published, it’s only then that licensing authorities can consider it’.
Should the vaccine get the green light, there is still no guarantee of a quick return to normal. The UK government has pre-ordered 40 million does of the Pfizer vaccine – 10 million of which would be for this year. There is an expectation more than one dose is required per person for it to be effective. In terms of who would be eligible for the vaccine if approved, it would go to the groups most in need of it with care workers and vulnerable groups expected to be the first in line. Given that this would not necessarily fix the issue of NHS hospitals having the potential to be overwhelmed, few in government expect an immediate end to social distancing.
Credible hopes for an effective vaccine could also boost Boris Johnson politically. There has been a frustration both among some ministers and many backbench MPs that Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock are too optimistic when it comes to the chances of a scientific breakthrough by the spring. The worry among this group is that the current policy of suppression until something shows up is risky as there is a chance there is no big improvement by March.