Britain’s leading government advisers working on the fight against COVID have yet to see data from U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its vaccine partner BioNTech that would support the launch of its groundbreaking vaccine.
The country’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said Pfizer and BioNTech have not disclosed what contracts they have with other countries, but the UK has already purchased 40 million doses, enough for 20 million people.
This week, the companies released initial results suggesting that their vaccination is 90 percent effective in protecting people from COVID-19.
The news was published in a press release and not in a peer-reviewed medical journal. There is no conclusive evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, and the initial result of more than 90 percent efficacy – well above the 50 percent guideline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization – may change as the study progresses.
The decision to publish what Pfizer called an “interim report” before the data were available was considered unusual by the scientific community. Scientists have expressed concern that the public is given an incomplete picture of the success of the vaccine that does not include critical information.
At a press conference at 10 Downing Street, Van-Tam said he had not seen any new data and the only data he had seen was already publicly available. The 90 percent figure from Pfizer and BioNTech represents the “first cut” of the data, and the final percentage may increase or decrease, Van-Tam said, as with all vaccines under development.
The vaccine is still awaiting regulatory approval, and at the same press conference, Dr. June Raine, Chief Executive Officer of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said a COVID 19 vaccine “will not be approved until it meets robust standards of efficacy, safety and quality.
She said the MHRA has begun evaluating Pfizer’s vaccine, but is waiting for full clinical trial data. “Obviously, we will be able to start our rigorous safety and efficacy testing as soon as they reach us,” she added.
“The public can be confident that all these tests will be conducted to the highest standards,” Raine said. “In short, our job is to work to the highest possible standards to operate independently, and safety is our watchword”.
Asked if he would be willing to be one of the first people to be vaccinated, Van-Tam said, “If I could rightly and morally stand at the front of the queue, I would. Because I have absolute confidence in the MHRA’s judgment on safety and efficacy. But this is clearly not right – we need to target the people at the highest risk in society and that’s the way it should be”.
Instead, he said he would encourage his own mother to get a vaccine against COVID-19 because he wanted to reassure people about safety. “My mother is 78 years old, she will soon be 79, and I have already told her mother: ‘Mom, make sure that when you are called, that you are ready to go, that you are ready to tackle this, it is really important for you because of your age,” the professor said.
In the UK, priority is given to vaccinating nursing home residents, NHS and social services staff and then older people….