By Carmen Rodriguez
Science Desk, Mar 10 (efe-epa).- Just 11 months after China first informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of cases of a mysterious kind of pneumonia of unknown causes on the last day of 2019, scientists reached a milestone by administering the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
Countries around the world are launching Covid-19 immunization campaigns without losing sight of the virus’ new, more contagious variants.
There are a dozen types of coronavirus vaccines currently available, and almost 300 candidates in development, 20 of which are in clinical trials. However, more than 100 countries have not yet started a vaccination program yet due to lack of resources, among other reasons.
The scientific community has worked tirelessly since the coronavirus started spreading. It took them over a week to identify the virus and know its genome, which is the starting point to develop vaccines.
“It was totally unbelievable, that in less than a year there are several vaccines and they are all working,” Guillermo Docena, a biochemist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, tells Efe.
Russia had given the green light to Sputnik V in August, but the WHO initially urged caution due to a lack of reliable data. A month later, The Lancet endorsed the vaccine’s safety.
Among available vaccines, the one produced by US firm Pfizer and German partner BioNTech is the most widely used (69 countries), followed by the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab (58), Moderna (30), and Sputnik V (18), according to the German database portal, Statista.
Israel has already vaccinated half of its population and, according to authorities there, Pfizer-BioNTech is over 95 percent effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.
Hospitalization and death rates among people who have had the jab have dropped significantly in the United Kingdom, according to the Public Health England. It has yet to detect to what extent vaccines could stop viral transmission.
“That is something that is not yet known. And will not be decided until a higher percentage of people gets vaccinated,” says Carmen Alvarez, an immunology professor at the University of La Rioja in Spain.
New variants of the virus have been emerging recently and causing concern because “they can affect the efficacy of vaccines,” according to Alvarez, noting that it is still not clear whether it is the case with the South African or the Brazilian variants.
Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have announced that their vaccines are effective against the South African variant.
The rapid rate of development of vaccines as the main long-term solution to the pandemic has demonstrated how scientific research is crucial to solving humanity’s biggest problems, although nothing would have been possible without unprecedented cooperation between biotech companies, Alvarez points out. EFE-EPA