As vaccines roll out, questions remain


Paris (AFP)

European countries are following the United States, Britain and a handful of other countries to start rolling out coronavirus vaccines.

The rapid development and approval of the drugs has been praised around the world, questions remain about the availability, efficacy and side effects of jabs.

– How many vaccines? –

It typically takes around 10 years to develop and market a new vaccine, but the process has been sped up considerably for Covid-19.

A vaccine developed by the American company Pfizer and the German company BioNTech was approved for use in Britain on December 2. Thousands of elderly people have since received the first dose.

A total of 16 countries and the European Union have given the green light to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The US Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency clearances for the drug Pfizer-BioNTech and another coup from the US company Moderna.

Russia began vaccinations on December 5 with its domestic drug Sputnik V, which is still in its third phase of clinical trials. China has already given the green light for the emergency use of some of its vaccines, although none have yet been officially approved.

A total of 16 vaccines are in the final stages of development, including those already on the market, according to the World Health Organization.

– What is the EU deployment schedule? ‘-

Vaccinations can begin from the Sunday following approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Each member country will take the initiative to define its priorities with the deployment.

But three member states – Germany, Hungary and Slovakia – started vaccinations a day earlier on Saturday.

– Which vaccine is the most effective? –

Since November 9, four manufacturers have announced the effectiveness of their vaccine: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, the British alliance AstraZeneca-University of Oxford and the Russian state institute Gamaleia.

These announcements are based on phase 3 clinical trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers.

However, detailed and validated data are only available for the drugs Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford.

The scientific journal The Lancet confirmed on December 8 that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was 70% effective on average.

The FDA has confirmed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be 95% effective, with Moderna claiming 94.1% for its drug. Russia claims 91.4% efficacy for its Sputnik V vaccine.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is the cheapest (around € 2.50 per dose). Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech’s vaccines present a logistical handicap, because they can only be stored for the long term at very low temperatures (-20 ° Celsius for the first, -70 ° C for the second).

– What are the side effects? –

Experts insist that with clinical trials carried out on tens of thousands of volunteers, any major risk would have already been detected. However, side effects that are rarer or affect specific patient profiles cannot be excluded.

According to the FDA, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can cause painful reactions on the arm where the injection is given. Other unwanted side effects include fatigue, headache, cramps and, more rarely, fever.

– Other outstanding issues –

The most important is long term effectiveness.

Penny Ward of King’s College London said the key questions were how long would protection last and whether the virus could eventually mutate and no longer be covered by the vaccine?

Another critical question is whether vaccines work differently in populations most at risk, starting with older people who are more likely to develop a severe form of Covid-19.

It also remains to be seen whether these vaccines block transmission of the virus, and also reduce the severity of the disease in those who have received the vaccine.

– Is the vaccine less effective against the new strain? –

Experts from the European Union believe that current vaccines against Covid-19 remain effective against the new strain of the virus detected in Britain and elsewhere, which is believed to be more infectious.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest” that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “is not effective against the new variant,” said the European Medicines Agency.

German BioNTech lab co-director Ugur Sahin echoed the post, adding that his company would be able to deliver a vaccine against a new strain of Covid-19 anyway within six weeks.


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