The United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) have started national Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, as the pandemic situation in each country continues to worsen. In the United States, the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine left a Michigan manufacturing plant on Sunday bound for 150 locations across the country. The vaccine will now be given to the most vulnerable Americans, including frontline health workers and long-term care home residents. The United States is slowly approaching the once unthinkable threshold of 300,000 Covid-related deaths. Meanwhile, the UK witnessed its first Covid vaccination last week. It was given to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, with up to four million more expected to follow by the end of December. The UK made history earlier this month when it became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use. The Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the UK comes as the capital, London, witnesses a surge in cases. As a result, London and several other areas in the south-east will this week enter the toughest coronavirus restrictions (tier 3) in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus and reduce infection numbers. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — enough to vaccinate 20 million people — with the first 800,000 doses coming from Pfizer's facilities in Belgium to the UK this week.
Moderna Inc. says its experimental vaccine is 94.5% effective in protecting people from Covid-19. The claims are based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial. Moderna is the second US company to announce a Covid-19 vaccine this week, following in the footsteps of Pfizer, whose own vaccine boasts a 90% efficacy rate. The Moderna announcement means that there could be at least two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States in December.As many as 60 million doses could be available by the end of 2020. Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are both built using new technology known as messenger RNA or mRNA. Both represent powerful new ways to combat the ongoing pandemic, which has to date infected 54 million people and killed 1.3 million. Both vaccines also come at a time when Covid-19 cases appear to be surging – especially in the US where new cases of the virus are now totaling more than one hundred thousand per day. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute. This is particularly good news for countries like India with hot climates that would struggle to keep Pfizer’s vaccine at the required -70°C. Speaking about the firm's vaccine, Moderna President Stephen Hoge said: “Assuming we get an emergency use authorization, we'll be ready to ship through Warp Speed almost in hours. So it could start being distributed instantly.”
As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections around the world passes eight million, hopes still remain on a vaccine being developed. But what does it mean for a potential vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates? Well, the bottom line is that all viruses mutate, it is part of their life cycle, so there’s a very good chance that SARS-CoV-2 will too. The good news though is that mutations can actually lead to weaker viruses, although the reality is that there’s usually no noticeable difference in the disease’s transmission and fatality rates. This seems to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Mutations that are currently spreading around places like New York do not seem to be any more infectious or fatal than the original strain that came out of Wuhan, China, in late December. According to the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that is developed will also likely be effective against mutated forms of the virus. It’s the reason why our very effective vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (which are RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2) still protects us, despite these viruses mutating over the years. So even if SARS-CoV-2 mutates further down the road, while we might see some breakthrough infections, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to a new pandemic. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]