By John Rice, Ph.D.
The world received some promising news Monday morning.
Pfizer, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, and biotechnology company BioNTech announced their vaccine against COVID-19 was more than 90 percent effective, compared with a placebo.
It is one of the first signals that we may be on the verge of a cure for COVID-19, which has killed 240,000 Americans and more than 1.26 million people worldwide. The announcement also came on the heels of another grim COVID milestone: worldwide cases topped 50 million on Sunday.
Yet, this is stunning development not only because of the speed in which researchers developed the vaccine, but also because of the efficacy rate of up to 90%. For context, the seasonal flu vaccine has an efficacy rate of 40% to 60%.
Like the creation of vaccines to eradicate polio and smallpox before it, if this new vaccine is successful, its development will be historic. Consider that much of the world learned about the novel coronavirus less than one year ago. To go from having only the genetic sequence of the virus to having a vaccine with such a high success rate is a tour de force. It is unprecedented and a testament to the quality and rigor of the science that went into it, as well as the dedication of the teams who worked around the clock to get it done.
During the pandemic, mixed messages over proven deterrents such as mask-wearing became politicized.
I have more than a vested interest in the development of the vaccine. I am a virologist by training, a scientist who is eager to get rid of the virus and save hundreds of thousands of lives. Health officials are seeking to immunize 300 million Americans if possible. That is a tall order, considering that some people do not believe the science behind immunization. During the pandemic, mixed messages over proven deterrents such as mask-wearing became politicized. Vaccinations are a harder sell. They should not be.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the rates of childhood vaccinations have decreased as parents kept their children home in the midst of the pandemic. An investigation by Scientific American showed that typical vaccinations given to children in the United States declined in the early months of the pandemic by nearly half. Such a change in behavior could give rise to diseases that have long been eradicated through immunization programs.
The overwhelming acceptance of this vaccine and others to come is our best hope to get this plague under control. We have a good and safe vaccine. The challenge is getting people to take it.
John Rice, Ph.D., is the managing director of life sciences for CincyTech.