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US group Pfizer says its Covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective

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US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Monday that the Coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine it is developing has shown 90% effectiveness against the illness.

Pfizer said that tests involving over 40,000 people had provided results that were a ‘critical milestone’ in the search for a vaccine, as global infections soared passed 50 million — with almost one-fifth of them in the United States. Stock markets had already soared after Joe Biden was called as the winner of the US presidential election at the weekend, and rose further on the vaccine news.

A Covid-19 vaccine is regarded as the best hope to break the cycle of surges in infections, as well as eventually relax lockdown and mobility restrictions around the world.

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‘Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19,’ said Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla in a statement.

‘We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen. With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis. We look forward to sharing additional efficacy and safety data generated from thousands of participants in the coming weeks.’

The Phase 3 clinical trial began on 27 July and has enrolled 43,538 participants to date, 38,955 of whom have received a second dose of the vaccine candidate as of 8 November.

The vaccine candidate ‘was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis’, the statement from Pfizer said.

The drug, being developed jointly with German firm BioNTech, is one of more than 40 candidate vaccines, but no other has yet made similar claims about its effectiveness. The companies said they could pass the final hurdles for a US rollout later this month, and could supply up to 50 million doses globally this year and up to 1.3 billion next year.

The scientific community reacted positively to the news, with top US expert Anthony Fauci describing the results as ‘extraordinary’. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: ‘We welcome the encouraging vaccine news … and salute all scientists and partners around the world who are developing new safe, efficacious tools to beat Covid-19. The world is experiencing unprecedented scientific innovation and collaboration to end the pandemic!’

In Pfizer’s statement, it said that the trials were being conducted on ‘participants with racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds’, but others pointed out that no information had yet been disclosed about the ages of the participants in the trial.

A statement from Joe Biden’s Presidential Transition team welcomed the ‘excellent news’ from Pfizer but warned that the end of the battle against Covid-19 was still ‘months away’. For the ‘foreseeable future’, the statement read, ‘a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine’.

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