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In a first, UK approves Pfizer Biontech's covid vaccine for emergency use

The corona virus feels nothing short of a nightmare that turned true for Hollywood fans who watched the 2011 film “Contagion” by Steven Soderbergh. Hardly did anyone know that the movie would one day turn into a reality in the exact manner with keywords like “pandemic”, “social distancing”, “asymptomatic”, “symptomatic” used in it.

The only difference was the extent and mortality rate of the virus which was shown much higher in the film.

I have had a hard time believing if it was a movie theatre I was in or was it happening for real. But actor Jude Law wasn’t. Law, who played the role of a corrupt conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede in the movie, told “There was absolutely the sense that this was going to happen. The great scientists on set with us who had worked with Scott (Z Burns) the writer and Steven were very learned and experienced individuals who knew what to expect. And they all said to us that this was going to happen – and it was a case of when rather than if.”

The Covid-19 is a respiratory disease that is said to have emerged from an alleged zoonosis by reshuffling of genetic material between bats and pangolins before it acquired it’s ability to jump to humans. An animal wet market in Wuhan, China was said to be the origin point of corona virus. The species jump was somewhere between November and December with the exact date unknown. There’s also no clarity on patient zero of covid, a benchmark used by virologists to determine the first person who got infected with a pathogen to analyse the process through which the species jump occured. However, a Chinese woman named Wei Guxian is said to be the first reported case of Covid-19 disease. She was a shrimp seller at the Huanan Seafood Market when she developed a cold on December 10 which was later diagnosed as a case of Covid-19. Wei also believed that the virus death toll worldwide could have been much lower had the chinese government acted swiftly.

China as we all know for it’s censorship might have thought of controlling the disease internally but couldn’t owing to the contagiousness of the virus, something which it might have acquired with a genetic mutation as it jumped to humans letting it travel the whole world. It requires combined efforts to fight a virus which knows no man made barrier like border. Soon as things went out of control, a consortium of researchers in China published the genetic sequence of the SARS Cov-2 in January widely known as corona virus. It was at that time when tests like RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) and later on RAT (Rapid Antigen Test) were developed for covid to determine an infection. It was also when leading pharmaceutical companies started devising ways of developing a vaccine based on the genetic sequence of Covid-19 to save humanity from the impending disaster.

As the virus went on spreading it’s infectivity increased with subsequent mutations and so was the mortality rate with ageing groups and co-morbid people being more prone to deaths. Realising the hazard, World Health Organization declared the covid as a pandemic on March 11. Methods like lockdown failed miserably to put an hault to the pandemic, they were just strategies to buy time for saving hospital beds. Herd immunity planned by a few countries also failed as it required about 60 or 70 percent of the population to get infected with the disease and subsequently gain immunity. A vaccine seemed to be the only perfect solution.

There were 321 prospective candidates for covid vaccine worldwide but only 56 of them made it to clinical stage trials. Of them 41 are in Phase I–II trials,15 in Phase II–III trials. The advanced front runners of the vaccine development process were Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer. All three of them released data from their stage three trials in November.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine also has an Indian version being developed by Serum Institute exclusively for India named covishield. The vaccine uses a weakened version of adenovirus found in chimpanzees genetically engineered to carry the spike protein of corona for inducing an effective immune response in the body. It showed an efficacy rate of 62% efficacy in the stage 3 trials. However a ‘serendipity’ or good luck as we call, increased the efficacy to a staggering 90%. A subset of volunteers were mistakenly administered a lower dose of vaccine and then a standard dose after a month. Bizarrely, that combination produced a higher vaccine efficacy of around 90%. It is expected that India will approve the covishield sometime around January as soon as the UK regulators approve it. Some adverse reactions were reported in volunteers after receiving the doses though the company rejected any correlation between the vaccine and the adverse reactions.

Moderna and Pfizer have a different approach in vaccine prepartion. They used the new messenger RNA technology for developing the vaccines. Moderna showed an overwhelming efficacy of 94% in stage three trials. No adverse events have been reported from the volunteers as of now. It requires a temperature of minus 20 degree celsius to store the vaccine making it difficult for a wide distribution. They applied for emergency use authorisation to the FDA.

Pfizer, an american company showed an efficacy of 95% which appears to have the highest effectiveness of all the three frontrunners. The vaccine requires a refrigeration of minus 70 degrees celsius, which is even colder than winters in Antarctica. There are no reported adverse affects whatsoever till now. It is also the one which got a formal emergency authorisation in UK by the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) on Tuesday after scrutinising the data, a first of it’s kind in the world. Speaking on the occasion Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Bourla tweeted “Historic day! In the U.K., we received the 1st regulatory authorization of
@Pfizer and @BioNTech_Group’s #COVID19 vaccine. I applaud @MHRAgovuk for its swift & thorough review of our vaccine data & grateful for the trust they have placed in our science. We anticipate further regulatory actions across the globe in the coming days and weeks, and we stand ready to deliver vaccine doses immediately following regulatory authorizations or approvals. With hundreds of thousands of people around the world becoming infected each day, it is clear that every day, every hour, every minute matters in the collective race to help end this devastating pandemic.”

It is indeed a great day for science as we are finally seeing light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Mass immunisation programmes on a large scale are our hope to end the raging pandemic that took 1.48 million deaths worlwide even though we all might not have the same vaccine at the same time. But we will surely have some vaccine to get immunised and return to a post corona world before the second wave kicks in where we won’t have a daily death tally, the constant fear of getting infected or the nigthmares thinking about our loved ones, the need to wear our face maks on or to socially distance ourselves from friends and acquaintances. There will come a time soon when mankind will have attained a great degree of resistance to the virus and it’s virulence. Covid will become a part of history books and mankind will have survived it just like the Spanish Flu and the Asian Flu. For now, let’s cling on to science and it’s wonderful creations like vaccines. Let’s have a moment for Dr. Edward Jenner who created and pioneered the first vaccine.

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