Earlier this week, Pfizer/Biotech announced the first interim analysis of their Phase 3 clinical trial for a vaccine against COVID-19, and it has definitely shown promising results. Out of 45,538 participants with 42% of diverse backgrounds (read about the importance of diverse backgrounds here), the vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective and no serious adverse events were reported (Pfizer).
These results are leading health officials hopeful to start vaccinating American citizens within the next few months (NPR). But, while the vaccine is looking good for the United States and other developed countries, what about the rest of the world? How is it looking for poorer, developing countries?
Well...not so good, unfortunately.
This is because Pfizer can only manufacture a certain quantity of vaccines by next year--about 1.3 billion doses. While this may sound like a lot, developed countries have already claimed most of this supply. In fact, “...the U.S., U.K., E.U., Canada and Japan have already claimed, through advanced purchase agreement, about 1.1 billion doses, or more than 80% of the supply” (NPR). This means that poor countries may not get the vaccine until late next year, despite an international agreement to ensure vaccine equity and access around the world (also known as COVAX).
On top of the vaccine limit, there are other logistical concerns such as making sure the vaccine stays at its required temperature so as to not expire. The Pfizer vaccine requires a “...special ultra-cold freezer” that most hospitals in the United States don’t even have. And by “ultra-cold,” we’re talking -80 degrees Celsius (or -112 degrees Fahrenheit) (NPR).
So what does Pfizer’s announcement mean for developing countries? According to health officials, the effectiveness of this vaccine is a good sign that other vaccines will be similarly effective (NPR). In fact, the Moderna vaccine’s interim analysis is expected to be out by the end of the month, so we should have an idea relatively soon (CNN). Hopefully these other vaccines will be easier to transport and store so that we can ensure equitable outcomes for poorer countries.