The vaccine bet

The vaccine bet

Tens of millions of doses of vaccine for Covid-19, starting as early as the fall. This is the epochal challenge that sees research centers and pharmaceutical companies engaged in a real fight against time.


The coronavirus continues to claim victims

After weeks of anguish and tension, in this period many Italians begin to breathe a sigh of relief . 

The heavy restrictions on individual mobility introduced two months earlier to contain the coronavirus were gradually eased starting May 4 . Without prejudice to the obligation of interpersonal distancing and (in some regions) to wear a mask , we are once again free to take a walk, meet relatives and friends, dine in a restaurant or enter a shop. 

According to the bulletin issued by the Civil Protection , there are 35,877 confirmed patients in our country , of which 5,002 hospitalized with symptoms and 293 in intensive care . On the day of June 6, 270 new infections and 72 victims of Covid-19 were reported. While Lombardy is confirmed as the Italian epicenter of the pandemic, five regions report zero new cases in the last 24 hours : these are Campania, Umbria, Calabria, Molise and Basilicata. 

If it is true that these numbers are not comparable to the war bulletins we witnessed in March and April, it is also true that the pandemic continues to claim victims. In Italy and in the world . The situation in the United States is dramatic , where more than 109 thousand people have died out of a total of 1.8 million confirmed cases. In second place in the ranking is Brazil , which in recent days has been around an alarming average of over a thousand deaths a day.

In summary, we cannot afford to let our guard down . Not even in our country, where in some ways the situation appears to be improving. Covid-19 is still the most serious global health emergency and must be considered as such.

A vaccine is needed to defeat Covid-19

There is only one way out of the pandemic: finding a vaccine . There is no plan B. In the meantime, the only option we have available is the one we have already learned about through small and large individual sacrifices: identify and isolate affected people, limit the chances of contagion and respect the hygiene rules .

For the other two viruses of the same family that have been discovered in the last twenty years, Sars and Mers , these measures have proved sufficient. The development process of the respective vaccines was therefore abandoned rather quickly, because it would not have made sense to incur an expense of this caliber when the number of cases had already almost disappeared.

To develop and market a new vaccine, the Mario Negri Institute points out , it usually takes years and huge investments . First of all “it is necessary to understand how the virus or bacterium is transmitted, enters the human body and replicates itself, and then to identify which antigens (the components of the virus or bacterium) are capable of activating a response of the immune system capable of to eliminate or block the pathogen “.

Once identified, the potential vaccine must be tested in the laboratory , first in vitro (i.e. using cell cultures) and then in vivo (i.e. with animal models). If this preclinical trial provides further evidence of its efficacy and safety, it can be moved to the human clinical trial . The latter is in turn divided into four phases, which involve an increasing number of participants; the last takes place after being placed on the market. All this strictly respecting the precautionary principle .  

Pfizer’s bet: vaccines by autumn

An unprecedented mobilization by pharmaceutical companies, research centers, universities, governments has unleashed around Covid-19. The latest update of the World Health Organization lists ten vaccines that have already entered the clinical trial phase and another 123 for which the preclinical evaluation is underway. 

However much you can press on the accelerator, however, it is common opinion among immunologists that the vaccine will arrive no earlier than next year . Then another problem will come into play: that of producing it in sufficient quantity for all those who will need it. 

“Is not enough”. Thus Pfizer’s chief Albert Bourla replied to the researchers of his company, who pointed out to him this rough timing. All the more so with the prospect of a new resurgence of the pandemic between autumn and winter of 2020.

“Think differently,” he urged them. “Pretend you have an open checkbook , you don’t have to worry about money. Do you think we will do many things in parallel, not one after the other “. He has given hundreds of scientists the task of sifting through Pfizer’s database , drawing on both commercial and experimental drugs. He authorized them to exchange information with competing drug companies. 


Everything to achieve a goal: millions of doses of vaccine that by the end of the year will be available to the population, especially the most vulnerable groups.


Pfizer currently appears on the WHO official list with an RNA-based vaccine developed together with BioNTech and Fosun Pharma, which is currently in phase 1-2 of the clinical trial.


Before even knowing if it will work, the company is converting four factories  to enable them to produce 20 million doses by the end of this year and hundreds of millions more in 2021. Before the end of 2020, Pfizer plans to make a bet . a billion dollars on this colossal scientific challenge. 


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