Raising hopes for a major victory in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech have said their experimental vaccine may be 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19.
The announcement on Monday reverberated across the world, with stock markets surging to new records and political leaders welcoming the late-stage trial results – even as scientists and doctors cautioned many questions remained unanswered and warned any celebration would be premature.
As the efforts to contain a disease that has killed more than 1.25 million people and ravaged livelihoods globally, here is all you need to know about the promising vaccine.
What was announced?
The drugmakers’ trial involves some 44,000 people in six countries, half of whom have been administered with the vaccine, while the other half were given a placebo – a treatment designed to have no effect.
Monday’s data is from an interim analysis that was conducted after 94 participants in the continuing trial developed COVID-19. Fewer than nine of them who caught the disease had been given the vaccine.
To confirm the efficacy rate, Pfizer said it would continue its trial until there were 164 COVID-19 cases among volunteers, a number that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has agreed is enough to tell how well the vaccine is working.
The data, however, have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal. Pfizer said it would do so once it has the results from the entire trial.
Outside experts said key details of the data need to be analysed and cautioned that many questions remain, including whether the vaccine can prevent severe disease or complications, how long it will protect against infection and how well it will work in the elderly.
How does this vaccine work?
When you get vaccinated, you are usually given either a weakened or a dead part of the virus, or the bacteria that causes an illness. In this way, the vaccine does not make you ill, but your body recognises that it is a foreign element and it mounts an immune response. This means that when your body comes across the real bug that causes that illness, it will be ready to attack it straight away.
The way this new vaccine works is called mRNA, meaning that you are not actually being injected with parts of the virus or a weakened form of it, but you are actually being administered with a part of the genetic code of the coronavirus. This tricks the body into producing some of the viral proteins itself so that the immune system then detects these proteins and starts to produce a defensive response to them.
What was the reaction?
Investors piled into banks stocks, airlines and other economically sensitive companies that had been battered by months of coronavirus-led lockdowns and travel bans, pushing major US stock indexes to fresh record highs.
Pfizer shares were indicated 6 percent higher in New York, while BioNTech’s US stock leapt 18 percent.
The World Health Organization said the results were very positive, but warned there was a funding gap of $4.5bn that could slow access to tests, medicines and vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.
Experts also warned there could be major challenges in distributing the vaccine, especially in poorer countries where power supplies are inadequate, as it must be stored at industrial deep-freeze temperatures to be effective.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they plan to apply to the FDA for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month, when they will have two months of safety data on about half of trial participants. This has raised the possibility of a regulatory decision as soon as December.
To save time, the companies began manufacturing the vaccine before they knew whether it would be effective. They now expect to produce up to 50 million doses, or enough to protect 25 million people, this year.
Pfizer said it expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021.
Who is lining up to buy it?
Pfizer and BioNTech have a $1.95bn contract with the US government to deliver 100 million vaccine doses beginning this year. They have also reached supply agreements with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.
Saskatchewan suspends sports, expands masking as COVID-19 numbers rise – Saskatoon StarPhoenix
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Restrictions will be revisited by chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab on Dec. 17.
While the province is no longer seeing “super-spreader” events, Shahab said Saskatchewan has reported an average of more than 200 new cases per day over the past week, quadruple what it saw approximately a month ago.
“Some of the measures we’ve made in the last few weeks have made a difference, but the difference has not been enough to bring our numbers down,” Shahab said.
U of S epidemiologist Dr. Cordell Neudorf said the latest set of restrictions is positive, but warned they might not be sufficient given the extent of community transmission.
His advice is to hunker down and support local businesses via curbside pickup or delivery, he said.
“The danger is that all we’re going to do is affect the slope, and the cases are just going to keep going up, and that might be enough to take our hospitals over capacity in the coming weeks. That’s the danger in this kind of move.”
Moe said the government is considering financial relief for businesses affected by new restrictions, but would not say which businesses may received it, or when further details might be provided.
He said the new measures are “significant” and expressed confidence they will reduce the infection rate.
However, he did not rule out further steps in the weeks ahead.
“Had (previous measures) worked perfectly, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
The province reported a record 111 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 19 in intensive care. Seventy-nine people were reported to have recovered.
Global National: Nov. 25, 2020 | Ontario receives scathing pandemic response report – Global News
New public health measures to come into effect Friday – paNOW
Premier Scott Moe said a lockdown similar to the one that occurred in the spring is not necessary at this point because we now have a better understanding of the virus than we did back then.
“We know what we need to do to reduce the spread of this virus to keep ourselves and others safe,” he said. “We need to just slow down a little bit.”
These additional health measures come into effect at 12:01 a.m., Friday November 27 and, along with current health measures, remain in effect until Dec. 17, 2020. At that time they will be reviewed by the provincial Chief Medical Health Officer.
Enforcement of public health orders is permitted under The Public Health Act, 1994.
During the Wednesday press conference, SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said the SHA was working on setting up a drive-thru testing site in Prince Albert, he did not provide additional details.
Restaurants and licensed establishments measures
Beginning on Friday all restaurants and licensed establishments are limited to seat four at a single table. If there are barriers between restaurants they must be paced two metres apart but if there are none there must be three metres between tables.
Restaurants and licensed establishments must maintain guest/reservation information on all patrons and the curfew on liquor service remains in effect.
Performance and Gaming Venues
Capacity will be restricted to 30 people at all casinos, bingo halls, arenas, live theatres, movie theatres, performing arts venues and any other facilities that are currently supporting a capacity of 150 people.
Where any of these facilities offer food or beverage service, they must keep the activity separate (i.e. cordoned off) from the food and beverage service. No food or drink may be in the activity area.
Indoor Public Event Gatherings
Indoor events such as pubkic banquets, conferences, funerals and weddings in public buildings will be limited to 30 people.
Food or beverages may not be present or served. Note that the maximum allowable gathering size for private gatherings in the home setting remains at five. This includes in the home or in buildings located on the private property (e.g. garages, sheds). If your immediate family is five or greater, you cannot have additional visitors. Individuals, recurring caregivers, support personnel (i.e. therapists, nursing staff) and tradespersons (i.e. housekeeper, plumber) are permitted, though they should maintain two metre distancing and be masked during service provision.Gatherings of any size beyond your immediate household are strongly discouraged at this time.
Sports, Fitness and Dance
All of team or group sports, games, activities, competitions, recitals and practices are suspended. This includes amateur and recreational leagues for all age groups. Examples include hockey, curling, racquet sports, cheerleading, dance practices in group setting, etc.
Athletes and dancers 18 years of age and under may continue practicing, conditioning and skills training in groups of eight or fewer, abiding by the required mask use and at least three metres of physical distancing between participants at all times.
Individual groups of eight may not share a training/rehearsal surface or space at the same time.
Coaches /trainers are not included in the training group numbers as long as they are masked and maintain a minimum physical distance of three metres.
Fitness activities and group fitness classes in groups of eight or fewer continues to be permitted, for all ages. Mask use and at least three metres of physical distancing between participants must be maintained.
Places of Worship
All places of worship must reduce capacity to 30 people, including wedding, funeral and baptismal services. No food or drink may be present or served.
Mandatory Masking Expanded
Mandatory, non-medical mask use will be required during all indoor fitness activities, with aquatic activities the only exception.Mandatory, non-medical masking will be extended to:
- All students, employees and visitors in all schools and day cares (except while consuming food or beverage or engaging in aquatic fitness activities). Children ages 0-2 years are exempt from wearing masks. Children ages 3-12 should wear a mask if they are able to;
- All employees and visitors in all common areas in businesses and workplaces, even in those areas which the public does not have access (e.g. construction sites, manufacturing facilities); and
- All residents, employees and visitors in all common areas in provincial and municipal correctional facilities.
Note that masking continues to be required in indoor public areas that have installed barriers.
Malls and Retail
Retail businesses must enhance the expectation of mask use and mitigation measures (reduced traffic, directional flow signage, hand sanitizer, etc.) through signage and staff training.
Large retail locations are required to limit customer access to 50 per cent capacity or four square metres of space per person, whichever is less. Large retail locations are defined as retailers with a square footage larger than 20,000 square feet, and 50 per cent capacity is determined by half of the specified fire-code capacity.
On Twitter: @princealbertnow
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