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Health officials say vaccine news is positive but it's still 'too early to celebrate'

Today Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine was 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials.

Dr Cillian de Gascun said there are logistical challenges to consider with any vaccine.
Dr Cillian de Gascun said there are logistical challenges to consider with any vaccine.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE said positive developments from vaccine trials are encouraging, but it is still “too early to celebrate”.

Today Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine was 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials.

According to preliminary findings, protection in patients was achieved seven days after the second of two doses, and 28 days after the first. The companies said they expect to supply up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020, and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Speaking at the Department of Health press briefing this evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he had seen the press release today, but pointed out that this Phase 3 trial “isn’t yet complete”.

“We’ve seen it and and we know there are a number of companies involved in vaccine development, and we’re hopeful that we will see reliable data when it becomes available to the regulatory authorities who have to inspect this data and when it’s published in the scientific literature and we’re in a position to to examine it, and determine,” he said.

“But we’ve seen it and we’re aware of it and, obviously, if these are borne out when we see the regularity data, if these are borne out when we see these scientific publications, that’s the kind of thing we’ll want to be seeing.”

Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) said the news is “positive”, but there will still be practical challenges to work out with any vaccine.

“Over 90% effective – if that holds true in the real world – will be a very good start from a vaccination perspective. Obviously, it’s a two dose schedule so there’s some potential logistical challenges around that,” he said.

“The duration of protection, obviously is something we don’t yet know. Similarly, we know from the media reports this vaccine requires an ultra cold chain of minus 80 degrees. So, again, logistically it could be difficult to roll it out so it’s not going to be the global solution, but certainly it’s very positive first step.”

Vaccine roll-out plans

Dr Holohan said the news is “hopeful but [it's] certainly not time for celebration”, and he wanted to remind people of the importance of sticking to the public health advice as it will take time to roll out any effective vaccination. He said there is work being done at the moment to pan for this roll out.

“There are a number of things about this particular vaccine and whatever vaccines will become available that are yet to be known in terms of the ultimate effectiveness in practice, the numbers of doses required, logistical issues around a cold chain and a range of things like that that all have to be factored into planning work that’s going on now with the HSE with the support of the department and other organisations.

“What will happen from a regulatory point of view is that regulation of vaccines is undertaken for EU member states as one single regulatory process at a European level by the European Medicines Agency and that’s how that’s assessed.

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“We’ll wait for their assessments of those things as and when data becomes available for the various different vaccine trials around effectiveness and safety of vaccines, and that will all feed into the planning and potential roll-out.”

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