A COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has been approved for use in the UK, making it the first country in the world to pave the way for mass vaccination. Yes please and thank you very much, freedom beckons to us all! But before we all get too excited too quickly, who is Pfizer/BioNTech exactly and when will the vaccine get rolled out for everyone?
BioNTech is a German biotechnology company based in Mainz that develops and manufactures active immunotherapies for patient specific approaches to the treatment of diseases. Pfizer is an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation—one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies actually. The company has a rich heritage of working within the UK since its first facility was opened in 1952.
Now, Pfizer and BioNTech have together created a candidate for preventing COVID-19 infections, a vaccine officially called BNT162b2, which on 2 December 2020, was granted a, temporary Human Medicines Regulations (HMR) authorisation by the UK government for its release in emergency use. In other words, the vaccine’s rollout is planned to begin imminently.
BNT162b2 is about 95 per cent effective. The phase three trials of the vaccine involved 42,000 people, about half of whom got the experimental vaccine while the rest were given a placebo. In total, 170 people fell ill with COVID-19 as a result, and only eight of them were among the vaccinated group, leaving 162 of the contaminated candidates to be within the placebo group. That, my friends, is a very healthy statistic, considering that the World Health Organisation has said that it would have been happy with just 50 per cent success.
The active ingredient is messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), which carries instructions for making the virus’ spike protein, which it then uses to gain entry to cells. The mRNA is synthetic and not extracted from the actual virus, it is delivered in a minute sphere of inert fatty material called a lipid nanoparticle.
The RNA bearing nanoparticles are suspended in a saline solution and injected into muscle tissue in the upper arm, then the mRNA is lapped up by specialist immune cells and sets out to follow instructions that create the spike protein (which is recognised as foreign by our immune systems, and therefore attacked by them) just as they would do if the cells had become infected with the real COVID-19 virus. Our immune system will have learnt how to defeat the pathogen and will in turn be primed to mount a swift response if it encounters the virus again.
The way vaccines work, in simpler terms, is by containing a weakened or inactive part of a particular organism, in this case COVID-19 (which is the pathogen), which triggers our immune system to ‘en guard’ and fight it off. It takes time for our bodies to respond and produce the antibodies (our immune systems’ health workers) to fight off the pathogen. In the delay, the person will become ill.
However, once the antibodies are produced and successfully fight the disease it will also create a memory response, so our bodies know what to do when the disease is encountered again. Essentially, a vaccine inputs a fake or dead pathogen which allows our bodies to learn how to fight it off, so when and if it does ever come into contact with the disease, it will, hopefully, kung fu it immediately back to nowhere land.
Pfizer announced in a press release that the first doses of the vaccine are already on their way to the UK, with about 800,000 due to arrive in the coming days. The UK’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, stated that the NHS will contact people about the vaccination jabs soon, adding that the most vulnerable and high-priority citizens would gain access to the vaccine first. This included elderly people in care homes, care home staff members and then followed by the over 80 year olds and general health care staff.
The UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public not to get carried away with over optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over. One fact we must all expect is that this process isn’t going to be entirely smooth sailing as the vaccine itself is a vulnerable little thing.
It must, at all costs, be kept in facilities that will store it below 70 degrees celsius for it to survive, which makes it exceptionally difficult to transport around the world, especially to warmer climates, as you can imagine.
That being said, the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the jab, which should be enough to vaccinate 20 million people, with two separate doses required for the treatment to work. The bulk of the rollout in mass vaccination is to be expected to happen next year, in 2021. Hancock added in his statement on the BBC that “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better.” The UK is first, but the rest of the world is next. For now, wash your hands, wear the damn mask and know that there is a sweet tune of relief in the air which we will soon all be able to dance to, up close and personal. Anti-vaxxers not invited.
Anti-vaxxers, also known as people who are opposed to vaccination, typically a parent who refuses to vaccinate their child, must be stopped. The anti-vaccination movement, which continues to grow, is a main source of worry for scientists who are sure vaccines work, but it should also be one for the rest of us. Measles (among other diseases) is on the rise once again, and reviews found that there is a correlation between the two problems. Here’s what is wrong with anti-vaxxers and what needs to be done.
The anti-vaccination movement comes from the idea that there’s a connection between vaccination and autism, as well as other brain disorders. This idea rests upon no scientific evidence, but as you’ve probably realised by now, the same can be said about many other beliefs in our increasingly disbelieving world.
Measles is a disease more contagious than Tuberculosis or Ebola, yet it is easily preventable with a vaccine that barely costs anything. When measles was declared to be eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, everyone thought—rightly so—that it was thanks to vaccines. And yet here we are, in 2019, with parents knowingly withholding their children from something that could save them from potential brain damage and death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018 measles cases in the U.S. went up six-fold while they tripled across Europe.
The situation is so bad that even Trump, who only a year ago ‘flirted’ with notorious anti-vaxxers and repeatedly linked vaccinations to autism, declared that people “have to get their shots”. In other words, if even Trump takes these outbreaks seriously, this is not something to disregard. This entirely preventable emergency that started in March this year should be a lesson to everyone about how unfortunate a world without vaccines would be.
A few months after the outbreak, anti-vaxxers are still going strong, lowering herd immunity quickly. In the U.K., Prince Charles’ mission to save homeopathy is reenforcing the public’s distrust in medical science. How? By promoting homeopathy as a miracle remedy, one that hasn’t been provided by the NHS since 2017 and has been described by its chief executive Simon Stevens as “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds”.
The anti-vaccination movement comes exactly from the growing public distrust of vaccines, but also in science, in the government, and in the pharmaceutical industry more broadly. So what can we do, really, apart from making vaccines mandatory for everyone? Tackling fake news and misinformation, especially fake medical news on social media, would be a first step.
In March 2016, even Robert De Niro dabbled in this affair by promoting the anti-vaccination documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe and pushing for the film to be featured in the Tribeca Film Festival. A few days after, De Niro decided not to include the film, most likely realising the larger-scale impact that this could have on the country’s already declining health.
Lastly, it shouldn’t be forgotten that more people are involved in the whole vaccination drama and therefore should be held accountable. Health professionals have to take accountability or be made to do so in this matter as well. We need to ensure that doctors giving shots are equipped with concrete information and available to talk to those who have concerns, so that parents can feel like they’re making well-informed decisions.
Conspiracy theories are fine and should be left alone to thrive on Reddit as long as they’re not hurting people in the process. People that don’t make the effort to promote vaccination are unknowingly allowing anti-vaxxers to do their damage. Anti-vaxxers should be called out—by the government, by doctors, by you, me—so that putting kids’ vaccination ‘on hold’ becomes shocking and taboo again. It’s a matter of life and death.