New vaccine could be ‘a gamechanger’
Ireland is guaranteed to get a share of the first "gamechanger" Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the year if the jab is given the green light.
The European Commission is finalising a deal with drugs companies Pfizer and BioNTech, the makers of the vaccine, which will pave the way for member states, including Ireland, to buy batches of the vaccine at the same price.
The new vaccine may provide 90pc protection to people from getting Covid-19.
Pfizer has 50 million injections of the two-dose vaccine ready to go before the end of 2020 and will have 1.3 billion more next year.
It holds out the promise of being the first step on the long road back to normality for economies such as our own, which have been devastated by the pandemic.
The drug makers will submit the data based on phase 3 trials of the vaccine to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency before the end of the month with the aim of getting an emergency roll-out.
Dr Albert Bourla, the Pfizer chairman, said: "The first set of results from our phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine's ability to prevent Covid-19."
Commenting on the company's press release, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said it generated hope, but it still not time for "celebration" because the full data still needs to be released and examined.
Dr Cillian De Gascun of the National Virus Laboratory described it as "positive" and said the claims that efficacy is over 90pc is really "impressive".
"There have been no safety signals which are very important, but we need to see how effective it will be among various groups," he added.
Kingston Mills, professor of Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said: "It sounds great but we have not seen any data yet. I would be cautious because this is giving efficacy data before giving safety data as well."
He said it is still unclear if the vaccine blocks infection or just prevents Covid-19 disease where people become ill after getting the virus.
Regulators are already looking at the results and are expected to go through the approval process as fast as is possible, commensurate with safety.
Speedy licensing could mean the first doses being available by the end of the year.
The first results of the two-dose vaccine are based on over 90 volunteers of the 43,500 volunteers in six countries.
About 12 Covid-19 vaccines around the world are currently in the final stages of testing, but Pfizer's is the first to report any results.
Questions remain over how it will work on various age groups, including high-risk elderly people, and how long it will be effective.
Dr Holohan said work is already under way here on how to roll out a successful vaccine if one gets the green light.
It is still unclear who will get it first and whether it will be given to older age groups as well as people with underlying illnesses before healthcare workers.
The doses will need to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80 degrees centigrade, which will cause logistical headaches.
The data is from an interim analysis and the trial continues into December but the headline results were emphatic.
Regulators will be looking to process an emergency licence application at record speed.
According to the European Commissions Vaccines Strategy, the commission has entered into agreements with individual vaccine-producers on behalf of the member states, purchasing or reserving the right to purchase vaccine doses under advance agreements.
Currently there are three contracts that allow the purchase of a vaccine once it has proven safe and effective, namely with Astra Zeneca, Sanofi-GSK and Johnson & Johnson.
As of October 2020, the commission continued discussing similar agreements with other vaccine manufacturers CureVac, Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer with which it had concluded exploratory talks.