Nine months after the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are in sight. That’s right, plural, vaccines.
Three companies recently published some results from their phase III studies, with efficacy ranging from 70 to 95%. They are Pfizer / BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna.
Pfizer and Moderna have formally filed with the FDA for an emergency use authorization (EUA). The FDA will review Pfizer’s requests on Dec. 10 and Moderna on Dec. 17.
Earlier this year, the FDA issued guidelines on COVID-19 vaccines filing for emergency use authorizations, which state that a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to be approved. So the success rates of 70 to 95% are hailed by experts as good news for now.
Even better news for people over 60: The vaccines seem to work in older adults, whose immune systems naturally deteriorate. For example, Pfizer discovered in a phase III study, including approx 44,000 people assessing the effectiveness of the vaccine was more than 94% in people over 65, very close to the overall rate of 95%.
Astra Zeneca says its vaccine is better tolerated by older than younger people. Some of their results have been criticized ̵
How do the vaccines work?
The vaccines of Pfizer and Moderna use a new approach known as messenger RNA or mRNA. Rather than injecting a weakened or inactivated germ into the body, the vaccine teaches cells how to make a protein or piece of protein that triggers an immune response. The response produces antibodies that protect us when the real virus shows up.
AstraZenecaThe vaccine is made from a weakened version of a cold virus from chimpanzees and genetically modified. The vaccine carries the blueprint for the coronavirus’ spike protein to the body; the immune system makes antibodies against it and is then ready to attack the real virus if the person is exposed.
Wait, there is more
There are some caveats. Recently, doctors gathered at a CDC meeting and warned that people there should know to be side effects of the vaccines (aching arms, muscle pain, chills). That’s important to know so those getting vaccinated know what to expect – and return for the second dose most vaccines need.
Senior Planet contacted two infectious disease experts; both are cautiously optimistic about the vaccines and their effectiveness in the elderly adults. “So far, a limited amount of data looks encouraging in older populations, but we need more data in detailed form, including adverse events,” said Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Litjen (LJ) Tan, PhD, chief strategy officer at Immunization Action, agrees, saying more detailed results are needed.
Who is the first? To be determined
A panel advising the CDC voted on Dec. 1 that health workers should receive the vaccine first, followed by residents of long-term care facilities. Essential workers and older adults are expected to follow soon after.
The CDC has ongoing information on COVID and on specific vaccines. The Milken Institute’s Faster Cures has an online COVID-19 vaccine tracker.
Photo by Obi Onyeador for Unsplash