As a second wave of coronavirus infections grips Europe, with several countries reporting high levels of daily new infections and deaths, a new vaccine is fuelling hope for an imminent victory over the global pandemic.
German pharmaceutical firm BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer announced on Monday the result of tests carried out on a vaccine they were jointly developing.
“The first set of results from our Phase III COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19,” Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters that: “We should be more optimistic that the immunization effect can last for at least a year.”
According to the two pharmaceutical companies, the vaccine is 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic if the claims are substantiated, say experts.
Pfizer has however cautioned that the initial protection rate may still change as time goes on and made clear that the vaccine was unlikely to be available before the end of the year.
Even though the vaccine is still being tested, the announcement that researchers haven’t found any safety concerns in large-scale trials is being greeted globally as a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will need to be administered in two injections, meaning that large numbers of doses have to be produced.
Countries around the world are already clamouring to sign contracts for the supply of millions of doses of the vaccine. In fact, the European Commission approved a contract with the two companies on Wednesday, guaranteeing that the bloc will receive up to 300 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine. And German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said the vaccine is likely to be ready in the first quarter of 2021 and hopes to secure 100 million doses for Germany.
European governments have however been careful not to give citizens the hope that mass immunisation is imminent. They have made it clear that they would not rollout the vaccine until they were sure about its safety.
Meanwhile, new alarming corona figures are being reported from several European countries.
In the UK, more than 50,000 people have already died because of coronavirus infection, according to the UK authorities on Wednesday – more than in any other country in Europe. A further 22,950 people became newly infected with the virus within one day.
The Spanish authorities reported a total of 40,105 deaths on Wednesday, after a record number of deaths in 24 hours the previous day. In total more than 1.4 million people were infected with the new virus, the Spanish authorities said.
Italy, the first European country to be severely affected by the pandemic in spring, reported more than one million infections. The Italian authorities registered 32,961 new cases and 623 deaths in the last 24 hours. In total, almost 43,000 people have died in the country from the disease. Italy has the third highest death rate in the EU after the UK and France.
In Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recorded 21,866 new infections in Germany within 24 hours on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 727,553 so far. The number of deaths in connection with corona infection in the country is now more than 11,864.
Due to increasing numbers of infections among pupils and teachers, more and more schools in Germany have to abandon regular classes. This is shown by data from 14 federal states which are available to the newspapers of the “Funke Mediengruppe” (Thursday editions). According to these data, attendance classes are no longer being held in full at 3,240 schools. In contrast to the last lockdown in Spring, schools are excluded from the partial shutdown in November and are to maintain regular operation with attendance lessons.
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 52 million people worldwide have become infected with the corona virus and more than 1.28 million people have died. In Germany there have been more than 762,176 infected persons so far.