Ross Clark Ross Clark

Will the Pfizer vaccine live up to the hype?

(Photo: Getty)

So is this the big turning point? Markets certainly seem to think so. No sooner had news broken that the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech is 90 per cent effective, the FTSE surged by 5 per cent. Given that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suggested that any vaccine that proves to be more than 50 per cent effective could be licensed, this suggests the vaccine will go on to be approved around the world.

Any vaccine that proves partly effective will be welcomed with open arms by a world which largely remains in lockdown or semi-lockdown. But does the reality live up the surge of relief which has gone around the world this morning? This morning’s announcement was of an independent review by a ‘data safety monitoring committee’ of the phase three trial of the drug. The drug had already passed its phase one and two trials, but many a vaccine fails in the phase three stage – when it is unleashed on a large number of volunteers in the community.

The Pfizer/BioNTech trial began in July, and has involved 43,538 volunteers, half of whom were given the vaccine and half of whom received a placebo. The committee issued its report when 94 of those participants had developed Covid-19 with at least one symptom. What we don’t yet know is how many of the 94 who were infected had been given the vaccine and how many were given the placebo – a vaccine can either stop you getting a virus or can mitigate the symptoms once you have it. Nor do we know how long the effect of this vaccine will last. All we know so far is that the vaccine was found to be effective 28 days after the second of the two doses.

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