German scientist who helped develop Pfizer vaccine says it’ll bash COVID on head

Uğur Şahin of BioNTech, which created shot with the US pharmaceutical company, tells The Guardian that the virus ‘can’t defend itself’ against prospective vaccine

Uğur Şahin (Kuebi; Armin Kübelbeck; Wikipedia)
Uğur Şahin (Kuebi; Armin Kübelbeck; Wikipedia)

One of the scientists behind the prospective COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech said on Thursday he believes the shot can end the pandemic.

US-based Pfizer and BioNTech announced Monday that initial data indicated the vaccine is 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, sparking optimism inoculations against the novel coronavirus could soon be available. It is still undergoing testing, and awaiting regulatory approval, and will not be available to most of the public in the coming months.

BioNTech’s chief executive, Uğur Şahin, spoke with the UK newspaper The Guardian following the announcement.

“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,” he said. It’s still unclear whether the vaccine blocks asymptomatic cases.

This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

BioNTech was founded in 2008 by Şahin, his wife Özlem Türeci, and Austrian oncologist Christoph Huber.

The prospective vaccine defends human cells against the virus in multiple ways, Şahin said.

“The vaccine hinders COVID-19 from gaining access to our cells. But even if the virus manages to find a way in, then the T-cells bash it over the head and eliminate it. We have trained the immune system very well to perfect these two defensive moves. We now know that the virus can’t defend itself against these mechanisms,” he told The Guardian.

He hopes people who receive the vaccine will be protected against the virus for at least a year, but it is still unknown how long immunity will last.

Pfizer and BioNTech are on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday evening that his ministry was poised Friday to sign a deal with Pfizer for the purchase of millions of doses of its vaccine, amid indications they could arrive by the first quarter of 2021.

The deal will include the purchase of 8 million doses, which will be sufficient to vaccinate 4 million people out of Israel’s population of 9 million, Edelstein’s office said. Two doses are needed to immunize each person. Delivery of the vaccine will begin in January 2021 and continue throughout the year, it said.

Edelstein said the vaccine will only be administered if it is approved by both the FDA in the United States and the Israeli Health Ministry.

Pfizer and BioNTech confirmed the deal with Israel in a joint statement late Thursday. The financial details have not been disclosed.

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said he had spoken with Pfizer chief Albert Bourla overnight. The call followed a conversation on Wednesday evening between the prime minister and Bourla that Netanyahu described as “very substantive and very practical.”

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