The impact of the new coronavirus vaccine will start in spring and really kick in next winter, one of its creators said yesterday.
Professor Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech, warned this winter would still be hard because the vaccine has come too late to have a sizable impact on infection numbers.
He said it was ‘absolutely essential’ to have a high vaccination uptake before next autumn ‘to have a normal winter next year’.
The company last week announced early results of its vaccine with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had been 90 per cent effective in stopping people falling ill with Covid-19.
Husband and wife team Professor Ugur Sahin (left) and Dr Ozlem Tuereci of BioNTech
Delivery of vaccines will start by the end of the year or early 2021, he said, but the bigger impact would not be felt until summer, when the infection rate will naturally decline as well.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said the goal was to deliver more than 300 million vaccine doses by April, which would ‘start to make an impact’.
He said: ‘The bigger impact won’t happen until summer, the summer will help us anyway because the infection rate will go down in summer. What is absolutely essential is that we get a high vaccination rate before autumn/winter next year, so that means all the immunisation, vaccination approaches must be accomplished before next autumn.
‘I’m confident that this will happen, because a number of vaccine companies have been asked to increase the supply… so that we could have a normal winter next year.’
Lab technicians speak with each other during research on coronavirus, COVID-19, at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in Beerse, Belgium, Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Professor Sahin said he was confident the vaccine would reduce transmission between people as well as stop symptoms developing in someone who has had the vaccine. It was possible, he said, that the vaccine could halve transmission which would result in ‘a dramatic reduction of the pandemic spread’.
While it is too early to know how long immunity will last after having the jab, he suggested it could be anything from one to five years.
He downplayed fears over virus mutation – recently seen with cases in mink in Denmark – affecting potential vaccines, saying most changes were ‘small and distinct’.
A technician inspects vials of coronavirus disease vaccine candidate BNT162b2 at a Pfizer manufacturing site in manufacturing site in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Unlike flu, he does not expect the vaccine will need changing regularly but said people may need ‘booster vaccines’ to top up its effect. Yesterday the Government said a further 168 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. This included 132 people in England aged 45 to 100, of which all except one, aged 69, had known underlying health conditions.
The deaths were between October 23 and November 14.
It comes as the UK’s top statistician said the second wave of coronavirus infections is ‘slowing’ across the country. Professor Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Office for National Statistics, said while cases are still rising, the rate of growth is slowing down.
It follows a number of studies last week putting the R-rate – the number of people infected by each individual case – at between 0.85 and 1.2. He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday show: ‘The good news is – yes – we are seeing a slow down in the rate of growth.
Husband and wife team Prof Ugur Sahin (right) and Dr Ozlem Tuereci of BioNTech
‘That means we’re still increasing and we are now in England at 1.25 per 1,000. That means that one in 85 people in England, we believe, have the virus.
‘In Wales, the figure is about one in 100, in Scotland one in 135 and Northern Ireland one in 105,’ he said, adding: ‘So yes we are continuing to increase the numbers, but the rate of growth is slowing.’
His optimistic comments come on the back of studies which raised fresh questions over whether a second national lockdown was even necessary. Data from the biggest national swab testing programme, run by Imperial College London, showed there was an ‘unexpected’ slowdown in levels shortly before new restrictions were imposed on November 5.
And a study by King’s College London based on a Covid symptoms app put the R-rate at as low as 0.9. Meanwhile, about 70 Conservative MPs have joined a group opposing a further national lockdown beyond the start of next month. New recruits to the Covid Recovery Group include more than 30 backbenchers who voted for the current measures. The group has warned it will fight against any attempt to extend the current four-week lockdown.
Tech giants still leaving anti-vaccine lies up online
Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are running rampant on social media sites – despite a promise by tech giants to halt their spread.
Analysis by the Daily Mail shows that online firms are failing to remove harmful posts and videos that pour scorn on the use of jabs to treat Covid-19.
It came as Labour called on the Government to introduce emergency laws to tackle the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation.
Charities also warned that exposure to misleading online posts could hinder efforts to roll out a vaccine in the months ahead.
Yet last Monday’s announcement of a breakthrough in the search for a coronavirus vaccine triggered an immediate spike in misinformation, according to analysis by the Mail. Engagement in Facebook posts mentioning the vaccine and Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder at the centre of multiple conspiracies, more than trebled in 24 hours.
Facebook is also still running adverts for sites linked to banned conspiracy theorist David Icke despite agreeing a clampdown with ministers earlier this month. A scaremongering video claiming the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is unsafe and could be forced on people was shared almost 5,000 times on the site, racking up tens of thousands of views.
A view of BioNTech Headquarters in Mainz, Germany on November 12, 2020
The original video, which has been viewed almost 57,000 times on YouTube, was produced by The Mirror Project, a site that was created in May and peddles conspiracies about the pandemic. Facebook removed a page belonging to the group after being alerted to the video.
Earlier this month, Google, Facebook and Twitter agreed to help the Government to remove anti-vaccine propaganda and to stop users and companies profiting from anti-vaccine content.
But campaigners dismissed the new commitments as ‘meaningless’ and said that most misinformation on the sites was still slipping through the net.
Imran Ahmed, of the non-profit company Center for Countering Digital Hate, said: ‘From the beginning of the pandemic, social media companies have failed to live up to their promises to act against anti-vaccine misinformation, despite warnings that it could curtail a Covid vaccine.’
Labour’s health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth yesterday said there should be penalties for social media platforms which allow misinformation to spread.
He called on the Government to deal with ‘some of the dangerous, nonsensical anti-vax stuff that we’ve seen spreading on social media’. A survey of 8,000 people in the US and UK by the Vaccine Confidence Project found that people’s willingness to take a Covid vaccine dropped by 6.4 per cent after reading anti-vax posts.
Heidi Larson, director of the charity, said a small knock-on effect caused by conspiracy posts hinder the ability to achieve herd immunity through a vaccine, warning of ‘a tipping point’.
A Facebook spokesman said: ‘Since January when Covid-19 was declared a public health emergency we’ve taken aggressive steps to limit the spread of misinformation about the virus and connect people with reliable information.
Royal Mail: We’ll collect swabs on a Sunday, too
Royal Mail is to start collecting post on Sundays so people can get coronavirus test results more quickly.
From next weekend the postal service will empty certain post boxes seven days a week.
Home testing kits must be returned at one of 35,000 specially selected ‘priority’ post boxes.
A senior government source said: ‘Sunday collections of home-testing kits will help ensure people get their results as quickly as possible.’
It comes as new ‘megalabs’ in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and Scotland are set to double testing capacity to more than a million a day by the new year.
Each will be able to process 300,000 daily tests. The increased capacity will mean faster results, Department of Health officials said.