Health, News

One Step Closer To A COVID-19 Vaccine

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Image shows a Pfizer scientist working in a lab.
Image: Pfizer Facebook page.

Pfizer, a company that makes medicine, announced that, along with its partner BioNTech, a COVID-19 vaccine they are working on seems to be effective in about 90% of cases.

A vaccine is not a cure for COVID-19 once you have it. It is a type of medicine that prevents someone from getting a disease in the first place.

Pfizer said in a Nov. 9 statement on their website that their vaccine “can help prevent COVID-19 in the majority of people who receive it. This means we are one step closer to potentially providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global pandemic.”

At least 10 other vaccines

The vaccine Pfizer and BioNTech are working on is just one of at least 10 promising vaccines being developed by companies around the world.

Pfizer said their vaccine is not yet ready to be given to people. Like any medicine, it has to be thoroughly tested to make sure that it will be safe for people to take, and it will work for most people. The company says it is in the final stages of safety testing.

The company will continue to test the vaccine for safety until sometime in late November. Then, they will ask the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to begin making the vaccine in large quantities.

The need for ultra-cold storage

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at extremely cold temperatures (-70 degrees C or -94 degrees F), which only certain freezers can reach. That means people who don’t live in an area where there is access to an ultra-cold freezer may have to wait longer for the vaccine than people in large cities that are more likely to have one.

The Canadian government has put in an order for 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and it has ordered another six types of COVID-19 vaccine from other companies, for distribution once they are ready.

The US government ordered about 100 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine back in July, with an agreement to get another 500 million doses, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Each person would need two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

There are about 38 million people in Canada and about 328 million people in the United States.

THINK AND DISCUSS

  1. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at very low temperatures. Ultra-cold freezers cost about $13,000 Canadian ($10,000 US). How will this affect who can get the vaccine quickly? (This Time Magazine article has more information: https://time.com/5911543/pfizer-vaccine-cold-storage/. And scroll to the bottom of this CTV article (https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/pfizer-vaccine-sparks-hope-and-questions-1.5185713) to read about how the need for ultra-cold storage could be an issue for “poorer nations in the Global South, said Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham.”)
  2. If the country in which you live is not mentioned in this article, try to find out what your country’s government is doing to pre-order a vaccine.
  3. What questions do you have about this (and any) COVID-19 vaccine? This article by WebMD lists five questions, including: How long will the vaccine work, after you get it? List other questions you have about the vaccine.
  4. How do you think “Pfizer” is pronounced? How can you find out? What other words (or names) do you know that start with a silent letter?
  5. Bonus difficult math question: Using the information in this article, figure out the percentage of the population of Canada and then of the US that could receive the full dose of the vaccine. Assuming they place another order, how many more doses will be needed for each country? (What information from the article do you need in order to answer this question? What assumptions did you need to make?)

LINKS

Find out more about the vaccine from this Nov. 9, 2020 Pfizer statement: https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-and-biontech-announce-vaccine-candidate-against

Media release by the US Department of Health and Human Services, about the Pfizer vaccine order: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/07/22/us-government-engages-pfizer-produce-millions-doses-covid-19-vaccine.html

Time Magazine article about the cold storage and shipping requirements for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine: https://time.com/5911543/pfizer-vaccine-cold-storage/

Interesting 2018 article by the University of Birmingham about the “cold chain” and how keeping things cold creates inequities in some countries: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/energy/news/2018/bbc-world-hacks-investigate-the-cool-ways-of-keeping-things-cool.aspx