By Reuters and Natalie Rahhal US Health Editor for DailyMail.com
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is still 91 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, offers six months of protection and does work against worrisome South African variant, new firm data reveal.
In fact, the shot was 100 percent effective in preventing illness among trial participants in South Africa, where a new variant called B1351 is dominant, although the number of those participants was relatively small at 800.
Dr Anthony Fauci called the results ‘really very encouraging,’ in a Thursday CBS interview.
While the new overall efficacy rate of 91.3 percent is lower than the 95 percent originally reported in November for its 44,000-person trial, a number of variants have become more prevalent around the world since then.
However, the shot was more effective in the U.S., preventing nearly 93 percent of symptomatic infections.
Pfizer previously only had data to suggest the shot’s protection lasted nine months. The new data is the largest real-world test of the shot since its approval and doubles the duration of vaccine immunity.
It comes at a critical moment, when variants are taking hold in the U.S., and as the nation will look to Pfizer and Moderna to make up for ten of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine lost to human error.
To-date, the U.S. has given one or more vaccine dose to nearly 30 percent of Americans and more than 16 percent of people are fully vaccinated.
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech said on Thursday their COVID-19 vaccine is around 91% effective at preventing the disease, citing updated trial data that included participants inoculated for up to six months
Pfizer’s Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said the updated results, which includes data on more than 12,000 people fully inoculated for at least six months, positions the drugmakers to submit for full U.S. regulatory approval.
The vaccine is currently authorized on an emergency basis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The trial data ‘provide the first clinical results that a vaccine can effectively protect against currently circulating variants, a critical factor to reach herd immunity and end this pandemic for the global population,’ Ugur Sahin, chief executive officer at BioNTech, said in a statement.
Experts fear new variants of COVID-19 from South Africa and Brazil may be resistant to existing vaccines and treatment.
More than 300 cases of the South African variant have been detected in more than 25 U.S. states and jurisdictions, according to federal data.
The shot’s efficacy against the South African variant as well as one the emerged in Brazil was further backed up by UK lab studies.
Pfizer and University of Birmingham researchers found that the the vaccine triggers protective antibodies against the Brazil variant.
In Pfizer’s real-world study, the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease and death in the small South African trial, and 95.3 percent effective in preventing severe disease in the overall trials.
It was 91.3 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection, overall.
Researchers identified 927 total cases of COVID-19 among the more than 46,000 members of the original trial.
Of those, 850 cases were in people who received a placebo shot. Just 77 infections were found among the participants who got the real vaccine.
The shot’s efficacy was even higher in the U.S., where just 50 of the 697 total COVID-19 cases occurred in people who got the vaccine. The remaining cases were among participants who got the placebo shot.
Based on those results, the shot was 92.6 percent effective in the U.S.
All nine COVID-19 cases that arose among the 800 South African participants were in the placebo group.
South Africa’s variant appeared in lab tests to dull the effects of antibodies triggered by vaccines in the lab, prompting alarm worldwide that the variant would render a year of frantic shot development useless.
The variant, known as B1351, is now dominant in South Africa and has spread to many other countries – including the U.S. and UK, but is not dominant in most other regions –
In fact, AstraZeneca shot performed so poorly against the South African variant that the nation gave its allocation away.
Pfizer’s latest findings bring a sigh of relief that the vaccine will still work against the more infectious variant that emerged there.
And Americans who got vaccinated with Pfizer’s shot in December can rest assured that they still have immunity.
Pfizer had only followed a sizable share of its trial participants for three months when its vaccine was authorized by the FDA in December.
Now, at least 12,000 of those participants have been vaccinated for six months and the shot’s efficacy remains over 90 percent.
Protection likely extends well beyond that duration, too, but has yet to be proven.
That’s an encouraging sign that the incoming supply of Pfizer’s vaccine won’t need to be used as booster shots and can be used to get more people vaccinated.
The U.S. will need that supply, especially after 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine were ruined by an ingredient mix-up and forced a halt on next month’s supply of the one-dose shot, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Fortunately, Pfizer is ahead of its production schedule, and Moderna will soon be able to ship 40 percent more vaccine in each of its vials, a drastic increase to the overall supply.
There were also no serious safety concerns observed in Pfizer trial participants up to six months after the second dose, the companies said.
They added that it was generally equally effective irrespective of age, race, gender or ethnicity, and among participants with a variety of existing medical conditions.
And earlier this month, data on health care and essential workers showed their risks of contracting symptomatic COVID-19 were reduced by 80 percent after the first dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine.
The release of Pfizer’s updated results comes on the heels of separate data that showed the vaccine is safe and effective in 12- to 15-year olds, paving the way for the drugmakers to seek U.S. and European approval to use the shot in this age group within weeks.