Covid-19 vaccinations in the EU could start from the first quarter of 2021 if all goes well, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said, as major trials continue worldwide.
This is an “optimistic scenario”, said Andrea Ammon, ECDC director during an interview with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) yesterday (November 11).
She said: “The situation on the [European] continent is very, very worrying [and] all our indicators are going in the wrong direction.”
She called on Europeans to strictly respect the restrictions that are in place “as difficult as it may be”, and said that the “road to the first vaccinations could take several months”.
Referring to when the first vaccinations might begin in Europe, she said: “Being optimistic, the first quarter of next year, but I cannot be more precise than that.”
The comments come after a European source told the AFP on November 10 that a vaccine could be available “from the beginning of 2021”, after American-German group Pfizer and BioNTech this week said that their vaccination had been tested with 90% efficiency and few, if any, side effects.
Ms Ammon said that the Pfizer announcement is “definitely promising” but that the news had been based on “a press release, not a ‘peer review’, so we must wait to see the final evaluation”.
A peer review is a process through which scientific findings are reviewed by other specialists in the field to check and evaluate the reliability and method of the findings. Studies must almost always be peer-reviewed in order to be considered credible by the wider scientific community.
Once the phase 3 stage of the vaccination trials is completely finished, the ECDC will then evaluate the results and give (or not) authorisation for the product to be used on the European market.
Ms Ammon said: “Then we will start production, and only then will we be able to start vaccinations.”
The director explained it was very likely that there would be priority groups that would receive the vaccination first, including vulnerable people, older people, and healthcare workers - but said that “we are trying to define this even more, as these groups are still pretty big”.
In France, health authority la Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) has already published a report into its vaccination strategy, detailing who will receive the vaccination first, as and when it may become available.
An MEP in France has already called for the vaccination to be mandatory, but the HAS has so far stopped short of recommending this.
300 million doses
Yesterday, the European Commission announced that it had approved a contract with Pfizer and BioNTech, for the potential purchase of 300 million doses of the vaccine.
European commission for health, Stella Kyriakides, has even said: “Hope is here.”
Yet, she added: “Even when we have a safe and effective vaccination, it will not be a panacea that will make Covid-19 disappear from one day to the next.”
Is Pfizer-BioNTech the only possible vaccine available?
No. It is simply the first one to announce such promising effectiveness at this point in the trial stages.
At its most recent press conference on November 3, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that there were now a total of 47 “vaccine candidates” being evaluated through clinical trials on humans. This is in comparison to 11 vaccines that were at that stage in June.
Of these 47, 11 are at an advanced stage - stage 3. In this stage, the vaccine is administered to “thousands of volunteers and compared to a similar group of people who have not received the vaccine, but have received another product for comparison, to determine if the vaccine is effective”, the WHO said.
There are five major vaccine projects that are considered to be “the major players” in the current global vaccine race.
American-German project. Reported as “90% effective” so far, when compared to a placebo. Major trials are continuing. Safety is set to be confirmed next week.
Pfizer has requested authorisation for public use from the FDA (Federal Drugs Administration). Vaccinations in the US could begin before the end of the year.
American project between Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Uses the same DNA technology as the Pfizer project.
Results expected within the next few weeks. Moderna is set to request FDA authorisation for use in the US by the end of November.
Chinese project by laboratory Sinovac Biotech. Uses the same technology as existing vaccines for ‘flu and Hepatitis A.
Trials were stopped in Brazil this week after “a serious incident” was reported, with no further information given by Brazilian authorities. A serious incident could include a death, or other “significant clinical events”.
Yet, Sinovac has said it has “confidence in the safety of the vaccine” and that the incident was “not related” to the vaccine itself.
A British project between the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Uses “viral vector” technology meaning it uses another virus to adapt and fight the virus that causes Covid-19.
The group has said that the vaccine could be ready for use by the end of December.
Trials stopped in early September after one participant became ill, but have since resumed worldwide. The illness was not connected to the vaccine, it was later discovered.
A Russian project by the Moscow research centre Gamaleïa and the Russian ministry of defence. Also uses “viral vector” technology. It submitted a pre-qualification request to the WHO at the end of October, and is in the final stages of testing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed the vaccine early on, to much scepticism, as it had not yet reached the final testing stage.
Since then, the government has launched a “counter-offensive” against Pfizer, and hopes to roll out the vaccine within the next few months.
French lab Institut Pasteur has also been working on a vaccine, but this is not yet being seen as one of the global forerunners.