Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

Scientist behind Pfizer vaccine confident it will 'bash virus over the head'

The scientist behind Pfizer’s breakthrough coronavirus vaccine candidate says he is confident it can end the pandemic that has killed almost 1.3 million people worldwide.

Hope was revived this week when pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech announced their joint vaccine candidate had proved more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 in interim clinical trials.

BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin, 55, has said he believes his product can ‘bash the virus over the head’ and restore normality to people’s lives after nearly a year of tragedy and uncertainty.

Speaking to The Guardian, Mr Şahin said important questions about whether the vaccine can stop asymptomatic infections will only be answered by gathering more data over the next year  – but it has already exceeded expectations.

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He said: ‘If the question is whether we can stop this pandemic with this vaccine, then my answer is “yes” because I believe that even protection only from symptomatic infections will have a dramatic effect.’

The Turkish-born immunologist added: ‘It was possible that the virus isn’t really targeted by the vaccine, finds its way into the cells and continues to make people ill. We now know that vaccines can beat this virus.’

Mr Şahin – who immigrated to Germany when he was four – has admitted he felt nervous about whether his product would trigger a strong enough response in the human immune system.

A ‘great weight fell off his mind’ when he was informed of the outcome on Sunday evening, leading him and wife Özlem Türeci, 53, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, to ‘celebrate a little’ with a cup of tea.


It is hoped two injections of the vaccine three weeks apart could make people immune to coronavirus for up to a year – but researchers are planning to look into whether it works differently on people from different ethnic groups. 

Analysis on whether it offers a different degree of protection to people from different age groups is expected back in less than a month.

President Donald Trump has accused Pfizer of ‘not having the courage’ to release the preliminary results of the trials before the US election after he lost the race to President-elect Joe Biden.

Mr Şahin has denied withholding information for political gain, saying: ‘What’s important for us is that we are developing a vaccine and we don’t play politics.’

The scientist has acknowledged the vaccine could make his company a lot of money after BioNTech’s shares soared following the announcement, with the total value of its stock currently standing at £16.6 billion.

However, he says he will not stop working and not replace the bike he has used to get to work for the past 15 years.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the nation this week it ‘cannot rely’ on the hope of a vaccine to fight the pandemic and urged the public to not become complacent during the second national lockdown.

It’s believed older care home residents and care home staff will be first to receive a vaccine in the UK, while health workers will follow closely after.

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