US President Donald Trump has gone on a Twitter rant, accusing US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer of delaying the news it has a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that is “more than 90 per cent effective” until after the election.
Mr Trump, who is still refusing to concede the election to Joe Biden, accused the company and government authorities of delaying the announcement, saying “they didn’t have the courage to do it before” because they didn’t want him to have a “vaccine win”.
But he did not present any evidence to support the claim except to say it was something he has “long said” would happen.
In a joint press release with German vaccine developer BioNTech on Monday, Pfizer said as many as 50 million doses of the potential vaccine could be produced before 2021, enough to inoculate 25 million people against the coronavirus (the vaccine requires two doses).
Pfizer said a further 1.3 billion doses could be produced next year, enough for 650 million people.
The company is now hoping to get Emergency Use Authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration.
It would also need approval from our own Therapeutic Goods Administration before any Australians could get it.
Pfizer’s chairman and CEO Dr Albert Bourla said “today is a great day for science and humanity” now that the results from the third phase of its vaccine trial has provided “initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19”.
“This is a victory for innovation, science and a global collaborative effort,” BioNTech co-founder and CEO Professor Ugur Sahin said, adding the announcement is “what we aspired to achieve” when the companies “embarked on this journey 10 months ago”.
While Donald Trump thinks the news should have been announced earlier, Australian health broadcaster Dr Norman Swan reckons they should have actually waited longer, and has said the announcement is good news but advised caution.
“I hate to rain on the parade but there are a couple things to be careful of,” Dr Swan told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday morning.
“This is a press release, and it’s as much a commercial announcement as it is a scientific announcement.”
Dr Swan said there was a race to be first to market a vaccine and Pfizer has “not necessarily been a team player in the development of a vaccine”, noting that other developers were collaborating to conduct similar trials to provide data that can be “much easier to compare”.
He said it was also not clear what the 90 per effectiveness rate means.
“Is it 90 per cent effective at preventing the COVID-19 disease … is it 90 per cent effective at preventing transmission? We don’t know that yet.”
The Australian government has supported multiple vaccine development programs, including Pfizer’s, with an agreement for enough doses of its vaccine to administer it to 5 million Australians.
More than 43,000 people have participated in the study with 42 per cent coming from what the drug company call “diverse backgrounds”.
94 of them have contracted COVID-19.
An independent data monitoring committee (DMC) analysed whether those people received the vaccine candidate or a placebo and found a vaccine efficiency rate of above 90 per cent.
The company said it takes 28 days (and 7 days after the second dose) for the vaccine to provide protection.
The DMC “has not reported any serious safety concerns” and recommended the study continue.
Data from the third phase of the clinical trial is yet to be peer-reviewed but Pfizer and BioNTech said they plan to submit it to a peer-reviewed publication.
A final analysis is planned for when a total of 164 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in trial participants.
Further study will also seek to determine whether the vaccine is effective for people who have already caught the coronavirus before.
Pfizer’s share price closed up 7.69 per cent on Monday to $US39.20 ($53.88).