By Sarb Johal 10/11/2020


I woke up this morning to great news.

Pzifer and BioNTech announced in a press release that their vaccine candidate against Covid-19 achieved success in their first interim analysis from their Phase 3 study.

Here’s the headline bullet points of what they found:

  • Vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis
  • Analysis evaluated 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in trial participants
  • Study enrolled 43,538 participants, with 42% having diverse backgrounds, and no serious safety concerns have been observed; Safety and additional efficacy data continue to be collected
  • Submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur in the third week of November
  • Clinical trial to continue through to final analysis at 164 confirmed cases in order to collect further data and characterize the vaccine candidate’s performance against other study endpoints

So, this is great news. But let’s remember that challenges remain. This vaccine needs to be stored at -80C in order to keep it preserved in the cold chain supply. That’s the temperature it needs to be stored at until immediately before it is injected into a person. This is going to be a logistical challenge, and will probably mean that the delivery points for the vaccine will be limited to facilities that can guarantee power supply and cold storage up to the required standards. It’s also likely to need more that one dose. It is going to take months yet before this vaccine becomes a reality – at least until into deep winter in the northern hemisphere (and that’s being very optimistic). There are other viable vaccine candidates, but the reality remains the same.

This is not an immediate fix.

Other questions remain, like:

  • Will the vaccine prevent infection for people most vulnerable to severe disease and high risk of death?
  • Does it reduce symptom severity?
  • Does it prevent relapse?
  • How long does the protection last?

What is clear is that until we get a vaccine, our own behaviour remains our best protection.

Which is why, here is New Zealand the news over the past few days has been disturbing, with repeated recent cases of workers in the managed isolation and quarantine facilities becoming vectors for potential community transmission. They have tested positive and been out in the community before their Covid-19 status has been determined. Now these people are acting responsibly once their status is known and should be commended for that. But it is a concern that here have been reports of conflicting advice to those people who may have come into contact with these cases before they self-isolated, regarding whether they were considered a casual or close contact, and the advice offered about the action they should take.

This is worrying.

What is also clear is that perhaps community collective action is falling off much quicker that we would like it to be, as illustrated in this twitter thread from Dr Jin Russell yesterday:


Is it time to consider mandatory QR code check-ins in shops and other public facilities? Should we make mask-wearing on public transport, including domestic’s air travel compulsory?

Are we prepared for another community outbreak, and all that may bring, including possible further lockdowns with all the economic and personal challenges this would bring?

Or are we willing to trade some of our modern life conveniences and freedoms for better potential Covid-19 protection?

I think it’s high time for this discussion, and my sense is that it needs to happen very soon indeed.

This post was originally published on sarbjohal.com