One of the leading pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, says that the vaccine they’ve developed with BioNTech for COVID-19 is 90% effective at protecting people from transmitting the virus, and 50 million doses will be available by the end of the year.
This news was met by stock market gains around the globe, and a sigh of relief by so many that are hoping we can get past this pandemic. Finally, it feels like we could be close to its end. Globally, well over a million people have died because of COVID-19. This pandemic has left people isolated, unemployed, or on the brink of unemployment, without the social structures people depend on, and it has shattered lives through illness or death. We desperately need a vaccine, especially now that cases are rising to unprecedented levels.
But what are the specifics of the clinical trial with this vaccine? The trial is still in phase 3, has over 43,000 participants, and all of the data isn’t even available yet. This vaccine also relies on a different way to give people immunity, using a genetic code instead of a weakened virus. If it is approved by the FDA through an emergency use authorization, it will be the first mRNA vaccine ever. In addition to those in the trial itself, those getting the vaccine first will be the guinea pigs for this brand-new kind of vaccine. In this sense, this distribution phase of the vaccine will just be another phase of clinical trials.
We shouldn’t lose hope that a vaccine for COVID-19 can be produced. It’s a non-negotiable. The only other way to reach the levels of immunity needed to decrease viral transmission and keep people safe is to achieve herd immunity, which would put many more people at risk of illness and death. But to take everything that this pharmaceutical duo is saying about the effectiveness of their vaccine at face value is at least questionable. We can’t depend on pharmaceutical companies that are motivated by profits, because they’re likely to say what it takes to increase their profits at the risk of our health. We can only depend on keeping ourselves safe through our collective struggles, demanding safe working conditions and a safe vaccine.