he scientist behind the world’s leading coronavirus vaccine has expressed confidence that next winter will be “normal”.
Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, whose Covid-19 vaccine co-led by Pfizer has shown 90 per cent effectiveness, said the companies were aiming to distribute 300 million doses of their candidate by April.
However, he stressed, if high vaccination rates are achieved by autumn 2021, “we could have a normal winter next year”.
Professor Sahin told the Sunday breakfast programme: “If everything continues to go well, we will start to deliver the vaccine end of this year, beginning next year.”
Mr Sahin said the goal was to deliver hundreds of millions of doses by spring, which could “already start to make an impact”, with more notable effects seen during the summer.
He added: “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, and so that we could have a normal winter next year.”
High chance of vaccine success
Preliminary analysis found that BioNTech andPfizer’s vaccine prevents more than 90 per cent of people from getting Covid-19.
More than 43,500 people took part in the international trials across six different countries.
The UK is set to receive 10 million doses by the end of the year, with a further 30 million doses already ordered. The vaccine is given in two doses, three weeks apart.
He told Marr: “We now know that our vaccine works, and most likely other vaccines will also work.
“So this is really a message which not only changes how we develop vaccines, but also increases the likelihood that we will be able to get this pandemic under control.”
How would a coronavirus vaccine work?
He said the “key side effects” seen so far were a mild to moderate pain in the injection site for a few days, while some of the participants had a mild to moderate fever for a similar period.
“We did not see any other serious side effects which would result in pausing or halting of the study,” he said.
He added that scientists would continue to collect data for more than two years, to gauge not only the short and mid-term side effects, but also the long-term results.
“But so far the safety profile appears to be absolutely benign,” he said.
Asked if Covid-19 jabs could be needed on an annual basis, similar to the flu, he told his BBC host: “The flu is a little bit different, because with flu we are dealing every year with a different strain, or different strains.
“The Covid-19 of course has some mutations, but so far the mutations are very distinct, and I don’t expect that the virus will have a dramatic shift, which is observed, for example, for influenza.
“So the only reason for booster immunisations will be if we realise that there is no protection after one year.
“It could be that it’s immunisation each year, every second year, or even every five years. So we really need to generate data to answer this question.”
Meanwhile, professor Wendy Barclay, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was a “worry” that mutations of Covid-19 mean vaccines “won’t work quite so well as we’d hope them to”.
Prof Barclay told Marr in a later interview: “The worry would be that if these mutations that are arising naturally in people, or in animals and then the virus coming back into people from animals, if they are affecting the way that antibodies can see the virus, maybe the vaccines which we’re generating now won’t work quite so well as we’d hope them to on the virus, as the virus continues to evolve.”
But Prof Barclay, of Imperial College London, said this “doesn’t mean that vaccines won’t work at all”, adding that a jab which is “very adaptable and fast responding” could be the best option.
“Because we might want to alter slightly the particular antigen, the particular spike, that we include in future vaccines,” she said.
“But it’s premature to suggest at the moment that is going to be the case. We really do need to understand whether or not these mutations are significantly going to affect the way that the antibodies could work.”
The Labour Party is calling for emergency legislation that would include financial and criminal penalties for companies failing to act against such content.
Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth have written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisting that the “spread of disinformation online presents a real and present danger” to vaccination efforts.
Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday morning, Mr Ashworth hit out at some of the “poison garbage” online conspiracy theories.
He and Mr Stevens stressed: “This is literally a matter of life and death and anyone who is dissuaded from being vaccinated because of this is one person too many.”