Coronavirus Vaccines

by Joie Liu


December 14, 2020

In January of 2020, a small virus by the name of SARS-CoV-2 began to gain traction, quickly becoming a serious problem that demanded immediate attention. Almost instantaneously, companies and labs around the world started the process of developing vaccines in the hopes of stopping the virus’ spread. By March, the first vaccines started testing with humans, and now, there are seventy-two vaccines in clinical testing with humans and at least eighty-seven that are testing with animals. 

Testing for vaccines is typically split into four phases. In the the first, preclinical phase, the vaccine is tested on animals; from phase two onward, scientists begin testing on people and increase the size of the group being tested on in each phase, moving from a small number of people in phase two to tens of thousands of volunteers in phase four. Regarding the vaccines doing clinical testing, there are forty vaccines in phase two, seventeen in phase three, and fifteen in phase four. There are also six vaccines that have received early or limited approval from countries such as China and Russia, but experts have warned that these were rushed through the process and are therefore considered unsafe. 

On November 9, an American drug maker by the name of Pfizer, alongside its partner company BioNTech, released astounding results of their phase four clinical trials. After carrying out testing on nearly 44,000 volunteers, Pfizer’s vaccine was reported to be 95% effective with no serious side effects. Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine does require a ninety-four degrees below zero Fahrenheit storing temperature. But its benefits outweigh this inconvenience: the vaccine has been shown to work especially well in those over sixty-five years of age. To test its vaccine, Pfizer split its 44,000 volunteers into two groups. The volunteers were not thought to be infected by COVID-19 at the time of testing. One of the groups received the vaccine, and the other received a placebo shot of salt water. Out of the group receiving the vaccine, only eight people were infected by the vaccine, corresponding to a 95% credible interval; the placebo group, in comparison, had 162 positive cases. There were only some minor side effects: Pfizer has said that 3.7% of volunteers reported fatigue after they took the second dose of the vaccine and that 2% had headaches. On November 20, Pfizer submitted an application to the FDA to authorize its vaccine. The FDA has approved it. Pfizer has stated that they could have up to fifty million doses available by the end of this year and 1.3 billion available by the end of 2021. In a deal with the American government, all Americans will receive this vaccine for free.

Later that same week, on November 14, the drugmaker Moderna announced that its vaccine was 94.5 percent effective. Based in Cambridge, Moderna collaborated with researchers from the Vaccine Research Center, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Similar to Pfizer, Moderna’s vaccine requires two doses; however, Moderna only needs a storing temperature of four degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Although this may seem like a minute difference, the not-as-cold temperature corresponds to easier distribution and a larger likelihood that Moderna’s vaccine will be available across the nation in smaller pharmacies and local healthcare offices. In its testing phases, only ninety-five people contracted the virus. If approved for emergency FDA approval, Moderna has said that it could be distributing vaccines by December 21. The company will be able to produce twenty million doses by the end of 2020 and 500 million to a billion doses by the end of 2021. As each person would require two doses in order for the vaccine to be effective, similar to Pfizer, ten million people will be able to be vaccinated by the end of 2020.

The Health and Services Department in America has stated that national and state governments will primarily work together to develop plans for individual states on how vaccines will be distributed. As the number of vaccines produced each month increases, the department plans to increase the number of vaccines made available to the public. Each state has its own plan for who will receive the vaccine first, but most states will likely follow the following guidelines.

In the first phase of vaccinations, healthcare workers and older Americans will undoubtedly be the first to receive any vaccine that is available. Workers in essential jobs, nursing home residents, and people with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk for contracting the virus will likely also be included in this phase, although these people could be considered phase two, depending on the state. In the second phase, vaccines will be given to first responders, teachers, school staff, childcare providers, and public health care workers. Then the final phase will include everyone else in the general public. Varying state guidelines make it difficult to know exactly when each of these phases will commence, but if all goes well, most of the general public could be immunized by the middle of 2021. And to come back to the BU community, BU has not said if they will administer the vaccine yet — hopefully, an announcement will come soon.

Baker, Sinéad and Dunn, Andrew. “A timeline of when Pfizer’s new coronavirus vaccine could reach ordinary people — a process likely to take months.” Business Insider, November 9, 2020.

Grady, Denise. “Early Data Show Moderna’s Coronavirus Vaccine Is 94.5% Effective.” The New York Times, December 11, 2020.

Loftus, Peter, and McKay, Betsy. “The Covid-19 Vaccine: When Will It Be Available for You?” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2020.

Robbins, Rebecca and Gelles, David. “How Pfizer Plans to Distribute Its Vaccine (It’s Complicated).” The New York Times, November 20, 2020.

Thomas, Katie. “New Pfizer Results: Coronavirus Vaccine Is Safe and 95% Effective.” The New York Times, December 10, 2020.

WBNG Staff. “Here’s how a COVID-19 vaccine will be administered in 5 phases.” WBNG, November 9, 2020.

Weiland, Noah and Thomas, Katie. “Pfizer Applies for Emergency F.D.A. Approval for Covid-19 Vaccine.” The New York Times, December 10, 2020.

Zimmer, Carl, Corum, Jonathan, and Wee, Sui-Lee. “Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker.” The New York Times, December 13, 2020.

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