Encouraged by Covid-19 vaccine results, officials see “light at end of tunnel”

Extremely promising results from a coronavirus vaccine trial sparked optimism around the world on Tuesday that humanity may be one step closer to defeating the crippling pandemic, although experts warned that major logistical challenges await.

A vaccine is seen as the best hope to break the cycle of deadly virus rivers and severe restrictions across large parts of the world since Covid-19 emerged in China late last year, unleashing havoc on the global economy.

On Monday, drug giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced that their vaccine candidate was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19.

The news triggered an immediate recovery in the market for some of the industries hardest hit by travel edges, social distancing and lockdowns.

“Bombed sectors like aviation, travel, leisure, big oil … time-distorted back to 2019 with giant meetings,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

Wall Street and European markets rose sharply following the announcement, and Asian markets continued their demonstration on Tuesday, boosting the worst affected sectors such as airlines, travel, entertainment and energy.

“We are a significant step closer to giving people around the world a much-needed breakthrough to end this global health crisis,” said Pfizer President Albert Bourla.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s candidate is one of more than 40, but no one else has yet made similar claims about efficiency.

The companies said they could overcome the latest obstacles to a US launch later this month and could deliver up to 50 million doses globally this year and up to 1.3 billion next year.

The scientific community reacted positively, with top American expert Anthony Fauci describing the results as “extraordinary” and the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, hailed the news as “encouraging”.

However, others pointed out that data from the ongoing trial were still needed for review, including participants’ ages.

The Pfizer candidate uses the “messenger RNA” method to fight the virus, but a major disadvantage of such vaccines is that they need to be stored in special freezers as opposed to refrigeration temperature levels required for certain other types of prophylactic agents.

Experts have raised concerns about the capacity of poorer countries, especially in warm climates, to set up secure supply chains for such a vaccine.

That was some bad news too. Brazil’s health regulator announced on Monday that it had suspended clinical trials of a Chinese-developed vaccine – one of the most advanced candidates – following an “adverse event” with a volunteer recipient.

Its manufacturer Sinovac said it was confident about the safety of the vaccine.

“A very dark winter”

Coronavirus has infected nearly 51 million people worldwide, with more than 1.2 million deaths.

The United States remains the hardest hit nation in more than 10 million cases and nearly 240,000 deaths, and the pandemic was one of the most important issues for voters in this month’s presidential election.

Joe Biden, who had beaten down President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, spared no time in announcing a Covid-19 working group after he was declared the winner’s choice.

“We are still facing a very dark winter,” he said. “Conclusion: I will spare no effort to reverse this pandemic once we have sworn in.”

Trump had repeatedly clashed with his own government experts, often refusing to back down restrictions or even wear a mask in public. Following the Pfizer announcement, he claimed – without proof – that the news was delayed until after the election to the detriment of him.

There was a separate breakthrough when the US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted emergency approval for a synthetic antibody treatment for Covid-19 developed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

Bamlanivimab, which has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and emergency visits, is the first major drug to be approved and designed specifically for coronavirus.

The vaccine news will be of great help to people in Europe – the current point of contact for the pandemic and the region subject to the most extensive restrictions.

Portugal, Romania and Hungary began implementing curfews at night this week, while Italy was closer to a complete shutdown, with experts warning of hospital pressures.

“There is no doubt that the situation is largely out of control,” said Massimo Galli, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at Milan Sacco Hospital.

On Tuesday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he expected EU officials to sign a purchase agreement with BioNTech and Pfizer for their vaccine “in the coming days”.

The European Commission is in the final stages of talks with BioNTech-Pfizer about the delivery of 200 million doses of their potential Covid shots, with an option to buy another 100 million.

Spahn said he did not expect the vaccine to be available before the first quarter of 2021, but added that he expected it to be approved quickly.

The news of the vaccine “was a light at the end of the tunnel”, the minister added, raising hopes that next winter will not be as bad as this one.

( Jowharwith AFP, REUTERS)