Pfizer says vaccine is looking 90% effective
(AP)--Pfizer Inc. said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90 percent effective, based on early and incomplete test results that nevertheless brought a big burst of optimism to a world desperate for the means to finally bring the outbreak under control.
The virus has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.
"We're in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope," Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer's senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. "We're very encouraged."
Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, now is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.
Even if all goes well, authorities have stressed it is unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year, and the limited initial supplies will be rationed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious-disease expert, said the results suggesting 90 percent effectiveness are "just extraordinary," adding: "Not very many people expected it would be as high as that."
"It's going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID," Fauci said as Pfizer appeared to take the lead in the all-out global race by pharmaceutical companies and various countries to develop a well-tested vaccine against the virus.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization's senior adviser, said Pfizer's vaccine could "fundamentally change the direction of this crisis" by March, when the U.N. agency hopes to start vaccinating high-risk groups.
Still, Monday's announcement doesn't mean for certain that a vaccine is imminent: This interim analysis, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries.
Some participants got the vaccine, while others got dummy shots. Pfizer released no specific breakdowns, but for the vaccine to be 90 percent effective, nearly all the infections must have occurred in placebo recipients. The study is continuing, and Pfizer cautioned that the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 cases are added to the calculations.
Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, former chief of the FDA's vaccine division, called the partial results "extremely promising" but ticked off many questions still to be answered, including how long the vaccine's effects last and whether it protects older people as well as younger ones.
Confirmed infections in the U.S. eclipsed 10 million on Monday, the highest in the world. New cases are running at all-time highs of more than 100,000 per day. And tens of thousands more deaths are feared in the coming months, with the onset of cold weather and the holidays.
Pfizer's vaccine is among four candidates already in huge studies in the U.S., with still more being tested in other countries. Another U.S. company, Moderna Inc., also hopes to file an application with the FDA late this month.
Pfizer has estimated it could have 50 million doses available globally by the end of 2020, enough for 25 million people.