Tuesday, November 24, 2020

‘We could have a normal winter next year’

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One of the scientists behind the coronavirus vaccine that has been found to be 90 percent effective said that “if everything continues to go well … we could have a normal winter next year.”

BioNTech co-founder Uğur Şahin told the BBC on Sunday that “this winter will be hard” and the vaccine “will not have a big impact on the infection numbers.” But he said that “if everything continues to go well,” the goal is to deliver more than 300 million doses of the vaccine before “April next year, which could allow us to already start to make an impact.”

He added that “what is absolutely essential is that we get a high vaccination rate before autumn/winter next year … so all the vaccination and immunization approaches must be accomplished before next autumn — and I’m confident that this will happen because a number of vaccine companies are helping us to increase the supply — so that we could have a normal winter next year.”

BioNTech and Pfizer confirmed Wednesday that they had completed a deal for the European Commission to purchase up to 300 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine. The companies announced their vaccine was found to be 90 percent effective on Monday.

“As a company founded in the heart of Europe, we are looking forward to supplying millions of people upon regulatory approval,” Şahin wrote in a statement.

On Sunday, Şahin also said that his company didn’t receive any help from the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed, as claimed by Donald Trump.

“We decided from the very beginning to stay independent,” Şahin said, “to ensure that … we are able to deliver the vaccine to any place on the planet where it is needed. Therefore, we didn’t get direct support from Operation Warp Speed.”

While Pfizer did not accept direct Operation Warp Speed funding for research, the U.S. government promised to purchase $1.95 billion worth of the vaccine through the Warp Speed program if it’s approved, a key guarantee.

In June, BioNTech secured a €100 million loan from the European Investment Bank to increase manufacturing capacity.

Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr if people should expect to have an “annual COVID-19 jab” in similar fashion to an annual flu jab, Şahin said that “with the flu we are dealing with every year a different strain or different strains” but although COVID-19 has “some mutations,” so far “the mutations are very distinct and I don’t expect that the virus will have a dramatic shift.”

“The only reason for booster immunizations will be if we realize that there is no protection after one year [since getting the vaccine shot] … it could be that it’s immunization each year, every second year or even every five years.”

Şahin also told Marr that he and BioNTech’s chief medical officer, Özlem Türeci — they are a married couple — celebrated the news of the vaccines’s success with a cup of tea.

Sarah Wheaton contributed to this article.

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