Biopharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech announced on Monday that their coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is more than 90% effective in prevention of the disease.
According to the New York Times, the trial volunteers had no evidence of a previous infection of COVID-19 and there have been “no serious safety concerns” observed. In a time where daily COVID-19 cases have hit an all-time high in the United States, this announcement has been seen as a sign of hope to some for potential normalcy in 2021.
In a press release from Pfizer, the company stated they are expecting to bring the vaccine, which has been in trial since July, to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and seek emergency approval in the third week of November. The vaccine, which is mRNA based, is two doses and the effectiveness was achieved seven days after the second dose. The press release stated, “Protection is achieved 28 days after the initiation of the vaccination.”
The efficacy of the vaccine has yet to be tested by outside scientists. According to Snopes, Pfizer’s vaccine testing was not funded by Operation Warp Speed, an initiative by the Trump Administration meant to develop vaccinations and therapeutics for COVID-19.
“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen. With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, in the press release.
On Tuesday, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) reported 83 total active positive COVID-19 cases among students, faculty, staff and contractors as of Nov. 9. With a vaccine in the potentially not-so-distant future, it was questionable how it would play a role in the UNH community.
In an email interview with The New Hampshire, Health & Wellness Medical Director Peter Degnan said, “The preliminary information released by Pfizer on their COVID vaccine development is indeed exciting; we look forward to the completion of their clinical trials and their publishing complete data so that proper scientific review can occur. Obviously, a COVID vaccine could have a significant favorable impact on campus, and might, over time, allow for some relaxation of the safety measures in place.”
UNH requires incoming students to receive multiple vaccinations prior to beginning their academics on campus, including the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine, Meningococcal (ACWY) vaccine, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, and the Chicken Pox (Varicella) vaccine. With so much uncertainty and newness surrounding COVID-19 some wonder if and when they will be required to receive the vaccine.
“There has been some very preliminary discussion about vaccinations for students, although from a vaccine distribution standpoint first-responders, health care personnel and the elderly may be the priority to receive the vaccine,” said Degnan. “It is possible that a COVID vaccine may be a future requirement for students, similar to our other immunization requirements, but any decision would be carefully considered in weighing public health benefit vs. any theoretical personal risk.”
Luke Tighe, a senior business administration major with an option in marketing, said that he wants UNH to obtain the vaccine for students to receive in order to have a regularly operating semester in the near future.
“[The vaccine is] definitely great news,” said Drew Siemering, a business administration major with options in finance and information systems and business analytics. “[It’s] still a long way to go but it is a giant step in the right direction.”
Some students, such as senior communication and media studies major Margaux Munick, would prefer for the vaccine to be checked by multiple third parties, such as independent studies or doctors’ associations, before receiving it to ensure its safety.
As for Jenna Peterson, a senior business administration major with an option in marketing, she doesn’t feel comfortable receiving a vaccine that was produced in such a short period of time.
“I feel that the process has been somewhat rushed,” she said. “Another article I read said that it wouldn’t be released until the third quarter of next year. I think that timeline is much more accurate than releasing it ‘ASAP,’ especially for the safety of everyone.”
Similar to Peterson, Munick felt that the vaccine has been rushed.
“In this crazy climate I’m more likely to hold off, see how the vaccines are going to make sure there are no surprise side effects. I think things feel really rushed. I will continue listen to the science and educate myself,” said Munick.
Junior medical microbiology major Maxim Georgievsky said, “The vaccine is very promising indeed, but I think the public needs an understanding of how complex and unique this vaccine is.”
Because it is mRNA based, Georgievsky said there are “a lot of complicated hoops it must jump through to be successful,” and can be challenging to store due to the temperature it needs to remain stable.
As COVID-19 cases remain prevalent on UNH’s Durham campus, Senior Vice Provost for Student Life Kenneth Holmes said to the UNH community in an email on Wednesday afternoon regarding the rising cases that the university is “incredibly proud of what UNH students have accomplished this semester. We want you, your friends and family to remain safe. We look forward to seeing you back at UNH for the spring semester.”
Photo Courtesy of Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters