A little over a week ago, the company Pfizer announced its vaccine with promising results in combatting COVID-19. Its preliminary results, which were produced in conjuncture with German drugmaker BioNTech, suggested a more than 90% effective rate in the drug’s ability to prevent the disease among trial volunteers.
Although based on limited, early data, this rate of 90% is impressive considering the flu vaccine’s efficacy rates in the last decade have hovered between 19% and 60%. By the end of the year, Pfizer plans to have manufactured enough doses to immunize between 15 million to 20 million people.
“This is a historical moment…This was a devastating situation, a pandemic, and we have embarked on a path and a goal that nobody has ever achieved– to come up with a vaccine within a year.”Kathrin Jansen, senior VP and head of vaccine research at Pfizer
The woman changing the country
Much of the work on this new vaccine is thanks to the leadership of Kathrin Jansen, the senior vice president and the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer.
Before her time at Pfizer, Jansen worked for the pharmaceutical company Merck. During her time, she spearheaded efforts to develop a vaccine against HPV, a virus that causes cervical cancer in women. Although considered an improbable project from the start, Jansen persisted and released its vaccine named Gardasil in 2006. Since then, Gardasil has proved itself to be key in eliminating cervical cancer in women.
Known for taking on challenging projects, Jansen’s leadership in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine has been monumental for two prominent reasons. The first is her use of a new technology that uses ribonucleic acid to alter the body’s immune system. The second is her leadership because of the unprecedented speed at which Pfizer created a new vaccine within a year.
Cautionary optimism and the vaccine
With the loom of potential nation-wide lockdowns overhead, especially following Europe’s recent shutdown, we must remind ourselves to be cautiously optimistic about the potential success of this new vaccine.
First, as stated, these are released preliminary results. The announcement of the findings is not peer-reviewed, and therefore, it is subjected to change. Second, WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns in a video that a vaccine alone is not enough to end the pandemic. He suggests we can use it to “complement other pandemic fighting tools” but not “replace them.”
On a more optimistic note however, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, has announced that he sees this moment as a “Really strong step forward to where [the country] wants to be about getting control of this outbreak.”
“With the vaccine, I say help is on the way. It certainly is, but the fact that help is on the way should spur us even more to double down on some of the public health measures to be able to use the combination of a vaccine and public health measures to turn this thing around.”Dr. Fauci, taken from this article