Two pharmaceutical companies that have developed COVID-19 vaccines have said drug trial data indicate a 94% to 95% efficacy rate, which provides a great deal of hope in fighting this pandemic.
“To see 95% efficacy – that’s better than other vaccines on the market for other diseases. It’s a huge load of promise,” said Sandy Salverson, PharmD, vice president of Pharmacy Operations at OSF HealthCare. “I need to see the full evidence, but this is truly promising.”
Releasing the data
Pfizer reported on November 9, 2020, that the vaccine it developed with German manufacturer BioNTech was proving to be 90% effective in testing trials. About a week later, the company said a final analysis of its Phase 3 trial shows it to be 95% effective in preventing infections and caused no serious safety concerns.
The clinical trial has 43,661 participants enrolled and 41,135 have received their second dose. The company is conducting these trials in approximately 150 clinical sites in six countries, including 39 states. Pfizer is pursuing emergency use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
On November 16, 2020, another company, Moderna, announced early data indicates its vaccine is 94.5% effective. Moderna has 30,000 participants enrolled in the study at more than 100 clinical sites in the U.S. Of the participants, 25,654 have received their second vaccination. Trials on Moderna’s vaccine continue.
Salverson and Stephen Hippler, MD, chief clinical officer for OSF HealthCare, both are encouraged by the early test data.
What a vaccine means
“Everybody is excited about the progress of the vaccine,” Dr. Hippler said. “But we need to keep in mind that it’s not going to change the approach of taking additional precautions for the foreseeable future.
“A vaccine is our one opportunity to really slow the spread of COVID-19, but it’s going to take time for all of this to roll out,” he said. “It’s not a magic bullet, so people will still need to continue to physically distance, wear a mask and wash their hands. The vaccine, however, is an opportunity to give many, many more Americans immunity to prevent the spread of this virus.”
Many questions remain
Dr. Hippler and Salverson agree that many unanswered questions remain, such as how long a vaccine would provide immunity, its use in pregnant women and young children and when the general public can expect to have access to a vaccine. Initial roll out plans are being overseen by state health departments, with plans to first vaccinate essential health care workers.
“No vaccine is 100% effective,” Salverson said. “Based on the very early release of information, it looks like the chances of getting infected after being vaccinated are very low. We’re still evaluating the studies to know with some definitive estimate what the duration of immunity from the virus would look like.”
The vaccine’s effectiveness
In terms of effectiveness, the trial data results are remarkable, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, the CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against flu illness. While the effectiveness can vary, recent studies show the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population.
Get COVID-19 vaccine updates
The difference, Salverson said, is the influenza virus changes each year and manufacturers anticipate which strain to target for the vaccine. Some years, the efficacy is lower because the vaccine doesn’t match the virus.
Again, Hippler cautioned, it’s too early to know how long immunity from a COVID-19 vaccine will last without further study and evaluation.
How it works
Both potential COVID-19 vaccines were created using a genome sequence to design a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA).
When the vaccine is injected into cells, the mRNA instructs the cells to make the virus’ spike protein, which the virus normally uses to invade and infect cells. Basically, it tricks the immune system into making antibodies against the virus.
Turn to your trusted health care provider
“We’re beginning a marathon here,” Dr. Hippler said. “The caution to the public is to be patient, continue masking, physical distancing, washing your hands – and let this unfold.
“Most importantly, stay in contact with OSF – your trusted source of health care information – and we’ll continue to educate everyone as we learn more.”