As coronavirus cases continue to surge throughout the United States, the news of developing vaccines bring with them some much-needed relief. There are multiple vaccines currently in development but two candidates - the Pfizer vaccine and one from Moderna - have pulled ahead of the pack. Here we have the answers to all the questions you might have about the Pfizer vaccine - how it works, and how it will work for you and your family.
The Pfizer vaccine works by using messenger RNA (mRNA), unlike traditional vaccines that most often use a weakened or dead version of the virus they protect against. The Pfizer vaccine uses a piece of the virus’s genetic code to instruct your body’s cells to build the spike protein that is found on the surface of the coronavirus. The presence of this spike protein will teach the immune system to recognize and destroy the actual coronavirus should it appear.
To test their vaccine, Pfizer initiated a late-stage clinical trial in July. In this stage of the trial, half of the volunteers got the vaccine while the other half received a placebo shot. Out of the nearly 44,000 participants, only 94 have gotten sick with Covid-19. An independent board of experts reviewed the data and early analysis suggests that the vaccine is over 90 percent effective.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at an ultracold, minus-70 degrees Celsius, so the company has created its own GPS-tracked coolers filled with dry ice to help make distribution possible. To ship this vaccine, Pfizer will package it when frozen into 2-millimeter glass vials. These vials are eventually packed into cartons and surrounded by 50 pounds of dry-ice pellets. A GPS temperature monitor will be placed inside each carton, ensuring the vaccine stays below minus 70 degrees Celsius. This is one way that the Pfizer vaccine differs from the Moderna vaccine, which is stored at minus-20 degrees Celsius. Because it also keeps for a month at refrigerator temperatures, it may be easier to distribute the Moderna vaccine to pharmacies without special freezers in rural areas.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses. The second shot, or booster shot, will be given three weeks after the first shot.
Because the federal government has pre-purchased hundreds of millions of vaccine doses with taxpayer dollars, they have vowed that vaccines will be available to the general public for free.
On November 20, Pfizer applied to the FDA for emergency approval of its vaccine. Next, FDA regulators will review the vaccine for effectiveness and safety so that an advisory committee can vote on whether or not to recommend that the agency greenlight the vaccine. It’s possible that the FDA may authorize the vaccine in mid- to late December. One or two days after this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee will discuss prioritizing vaccines for high-risk groups. The government projects that by the end of 2020 Pfizer and Moderna will provide 40 million doses, enough for 20 million people.