Pfizer (PFE 3.37%) and its German partner BioNTech (BNTX 6.48%) reported incredible efficacy data from a phase 3 trial for their mRNA coronavirus vaccine candidate. This news, paired with the equally impressive data from Moderna (MRNA 3.01%) about its candidate that takes a similar approach, inspired much hope around the world and injected optimism into the stock market.
We talked to Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and Associate Research Scientist at Columbia Center for Infection and Immunity, about when investors should expect a publicly available COVID-19 vaccine.
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Corinne Cardina: Let's talk about timelines. You mentioned, of course, there are certain demographics and people who are in high-risk frontline jobs who are going to be first in line to get the vaccine. Do you have any thoughts? Of course, this is the big question, everyone wants to know about when a vaccine will be open to the general public.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen: I think that's a really tricky question because it partly depends on how many vaccines get some type of FDA approval, whether that's full licensure or whether that's an emergency use authorization. I think that a conservative estimate would be by the end of next year, I think of, probably, a more realistic estimate is sometime next summer. I know that, again, Secretary Azar is extremely optimistic about the timelines and said that everybody should have access to it by March or April of 2021. I think that that, again, is extremely optimistic and especially if we only have one vaccine that actually has approval. As you pointed out, the Pfizer vaccine does require two shots, as do many of these candidates that are in Phase 3 trials. The Pfizer vaccine also has one real challenge and that's going to be distribution. These mRNA vaccines, mRNA itself is a very unstable molecule, so it has to be kept in an ultra-cold freezer, that is minus 80 degrees Celsius or below. Many places do not have these ultra-cold freezers and they're expensive and out of reach of many community places where people normally get vaccine, like say your local neighborhood drugstore, your local primary care physician's office. It's going to be very difficult for all of them to invest in these ultra colds freezers to make distribution much easier. So there's going to be a real challenge getting those, especially, to places that are not near a major medical center, major hospital which is where these ultra cold freezers are usually located. I think that just these logistical issues are going to delay that timeline, they're going to make it very challenging for people to roll out. It's not just the number of doses that we've manufactured by now because for an mRNA vaccine, the good news is that they're actually fairly straightforward to manufacture. They're not difficult, they don't require inoculating a bunch of chicken eggs, they can be synthesized fairly easily. But again, the challenge is making sure that they can get to all the people who are going to need them.