The Vaccine Race Is Heating Up

Everything that happened this week in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine

Credit: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

There are still 11 vaccines in phase 3 clinical trials and six approved for limited use — no change from last week. None have been approved for general use yet, but the race is heating up.

Pfizer’s vaccine appears to be 90% effective. The biggest news of the week came from vaccine front-runner Pfizer, which released preliminary data on Monday showing that its vaccine is 90% effective. Though the results were released via press release and not a peer-reviewed paper, many scientists were optimistic. Efficacy of 90% is much higher than the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement of 50%. Still, many questions still remain, as my colleague Dana Smith wrote in the Medium Coronavirus Blog: It’s still not known how many people who received the vaccine still contracted Covid-19, whether it protects against asymptomatic or severe infections, and what adverse events may have occurred.

Moderna is playing catchup. Just two days after Pfizer released its news, Moderna, another major contender in the vaccine race, released a statement saying it had reached the milestone of Covid-19 cases required to do its first interim analysis of its vaccine. Still no word on when those results will be released, though.

Russia says its controversial vaccine is 92% effective. Also on Wednesday, the developers of the controversial Russian vaccine Sputnik V published a press release saying that their vaccine was 92% effective, according to interim results from its phase 3 trial. As Ewen Callaway at Nature noted, the study doesn’t seem to be as robust as Pfizer’s: The Sputnik V analysis was based on 20 people with Covid-19 while Pfizer’s was based on 94 people. The vaccine (one of two Russian candidates) is controversial because Russia’s less rigorous approval process allowed it to be licensed for emergency use in August, well before safety and efficacy data from its phase 3 trials were available.

Joe Biden releases his vaccine plan for the U.S. On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden released a promising plan for handling the coronavirus pandemic when he takes office in late January. In addition to strategies for increasing testing and contact tracing, it includes a plan for manufacturing and distributing a safe and effective vaccine for free to all Americans, with a clear emphasis on science-driven decision-making and equitable distribution. Of note is the plan to create a dedicated Covid-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force to address concerns about distribution among minority groups.



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Yasmin Tayag

Yasmin Tayag


Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.