Most of the news we’ve been reading about COVID-19 lately seems to be bad news: New cases are spiking across the country. Hospital ICUs are filling to capacity with seriously ill patients. And experts are warning of escalating infection rates in the coming months.
But if you look a little closer, you can find some tidbits of good news as well. Here’s one story I came across recently that gave me hope. On July 1, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner the German biotech company BioNTech announced that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine has shown promising results in early testing.
The initial clinical data from the study revealed that volunteers who took low or medium doses of the vaccine in two injections about a month apart developed immune responses to the virus in the range expected to be protective.1 In fact, their immune defenses were stronger than those of the average recovered COVID-19 patient.
The study involved 45 healthy volunteers. Twelve received a 10 microgram dose of the vaccine, 12 received a 30 microgram dose, 12 received 100 micrograms and nine received a placebo. The main side effects were fever and injection site soreness. The 100 microgram dose caused fevers in half of patients receiving it, so a second dose was not given to those patients.
Pfizer’s experimental vaccine generated antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and some of those antibodies were neutralizing. That means these antibodies may prevent the virus from functioning.
The level of neutralizing antibodies in the study volunteers were 1.8 to 2.8 times that found in recovered COVID-19 patients, but researchers aren’t sure yet if higher antibody levels lead to virus immunity. Pfizer is planning large-scale studies to prove that people getting their vaccine are 50 percent less like to become infected. Those studies are set to begin this summer.
For its vaccine, Pfizer used specific genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA. This mRNA contains directions for making a certain protein used by the virus to invade human cells. The mRNA is taken up by the body’s cells, which then follow the directions and make the protein. The body’s immune system recognizes the protein as foreign and make antibodies to disable it if the virus tries to invade.
The vaccine in this study is one of four candidate vaccines being developed by Pfizer. The company reported that additional information from this particular trial will help it to pick a leading candidate and dose level for a much larger study. Based on the initial trial results, BioNTech and Pfizer hope to progress to a larger US trial involving 30,000 participants.
Pfizer notes that if its vaccine proves safe and effective, and is approved, it expects to make up to 100 million dose by the end of 2020 and “potentially more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021.”
The good news is there. But you might have to look beyond the front page.