Memphis infectious disease doctor weighs in on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

Updated: Nov. 9, 2020 at 6:25 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s the type of encouraging news the world has been waiting for.

On Monday, Pfizer announced a vaccine it’s been working on with German biotechnology company BioNTech has shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO. “We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity, and economies struggling to reopen. With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”

Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease doctor in Memphis, and a member of the Memphis-Shelby County Joint COVID-19 Task Force, called the news promising.

“This is very good news in the midst of all the grim news that we’ve been hearing,” said Jain. “I’m very excited to see 90% efficacy from the vaccine. We don’t usually expect that high an efficacy.”

Jain says an efficacy rate of over 90% would provide nearly as much protection as the measles vaccine, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says is 97% effective.

By comparison, annual flu vaccines are 40 to 60% effective, according to the CDC.

Longtime Memphian Susan Adler Thorp participated in Pfizer’s clinical vaccine trial in Memphis through CNS Healthcare.

In September, she told WMC Action News 5 why it was important to participate.

“Ultimately it will be a satisfying feeling to know that I played a role, that’s why I got in this, to begin with, in a way to help others,” said Thorp.

Pfizer now plans to apply for emergency-use approval from the FDA.

If approved, Pfizer says it hopes to produce 50 million doses by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate 25 million people, taking two doses each.

Pfizer expects to produce 1.3 billion doses next year, which would be enough for more than half a billion people.

While vaccines aren’t usually developed this quickly, Dr. Jain is optimistic.

“People should look at the science and the scientists who are doing the studies and look at the data that’s coming out,” said Jain. “I am reassured that the scientific community is doing due diligence to make sure that they’re not unnecessarily speeding this up.”

Jain says moving forward a big challenge will be to make sure there are no major side effects, which he says will only be known in time.

He says another challenge will be convincing people to get vaccinated once a vaccine has been approved.

“We know that many people do not like to get vaccinated and if we build it and they don’t come, that’s going to be very concerning,” said Jain.

Other companies like AstraZeneca and Moderna are also getting closer to developing a COVID-19 vaccine and clinical trials continue around the world.

Memphis-based FedEx will play an important role in distributing a vaccine once one has been approved.

“We’re preparing our global network to safely and reliably transport COVID-19 vaccines to communities in need when they are approved and ready,” the company tweeted on Monday.

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