18th Jan, 2021

World's first Covid-19 vaccine hope is "light at the end of the lockdown tunnel", says Warwick Medical School professor

A PROFESSOR at Warwick Medical School has tentatively welcomed the new “first-generation” Covid vaccine as “light at the end of the lockdown tunnel”.

Lawrence Young, a professor of Molecular Oncology and virologist, at the Coventry-based University of Warwick campus describes the news of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine as “very exciting”, but says it is still very early days in the “massive global race” to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

Published preliminary data revealed yesterday (Monday November 9) the vaccine was 90 per cent effective at preventing Covid-19 infection.

Pharma giant Pfizer and the German biotech firm created by Turkish physicians and married couple, Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci, have been hailed as the “dream team” behind the world’s first coronavirus vaccine hopes, reports the Daily Mail.

Professor Young said: “We have been expecting to hear the outcomes from a number of trials and this is really exciting news. It’s the first vaccine that will be able to protect against coronavirus.

“We were all concerned it might be impossible to create anything that would stop the disease, but its preliminary data is very encouraging. The question is whether a vaccine can be created to prevent you from getting the virus in the first place and preventing the spread. That may be possible too.

“I call these ‘first-generation vaccines’ – light at the end of the lockdown tunnel.

“We have to be absolutely sure about safety, but the safety data on this is very good. It will need regulatory approval and Matt Hancock says it will be scrutinised by experts.

“There are some complications. With the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine you have to keep it mega cold – at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below.

“These challenges can be overcome. If you keep in a freezer you can take it out and keep in a fridge for about a day.

“Then there are the logistics both of how you deliver such a vaccine, and manufacture it. One benefit of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is that it is completely synthetic and easy to manufacture.

“The vaccination developed as part of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca trial is made from living virus and is very complicated to manufacture.

“There’s been research in the US on how you can deliver the first kind of vaccine around the world and what you need to do in order to put a freezer on a plane.

“One US scientist I’ve been speaking to told me to immunise billions of people worldwide you’d need to fill 8,000 Boeing 747s with the vaccine. But he said there’s not enough of the little glass vials to store it.

“Then there’s the question of distribution here in the UK. It’s something we are going to have to grapple with and the Government Task Force is working on this.”

Scientists across the world have been racing to find a Covid vaccine since January with test results of the Oxford University and AstraZene vaccine poised for next month.

Professor Young said “They’re all using different technologies targeting different proteins.

“It’s great as many of us are all mobilised to help to make sure we work together across the world.” He hopes this type of global collaboration can continue in the future.

He said: “This week we have been given a little good news but this vaccine is not going to be widely available until early next year. It’s still a case of keep calm and carry on with space, wearing facemasks and washing hands – the virus is still out there, as deadly as ever.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that vaccination clinics will be open seven days a week to immunise people with a mass roll-out expected early in 2021.

He said: “If this or any other vaccine is approved, we will be ready to begin a large-scale vaccination programme. First to priority groups, as recommended by the independent joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, before rolling it out more widely.

“Our plans for deployment of a Covid vaccine are built on tried and tested plans for a flu vaccine, which we of course deploy every autumn. We do not yet know whether or when a vaccine is approved, but I have tasked the NHS with being ready from any date from December 1.

“The logistics are complex, the uncertainties are real, and the scale of the job is vast, but I know that the NHS, brilliantly assisted by the armed services, will be up to the task.”

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