This morning, Pfizer and BioNTech reported both startling and promising results from its COVID-19 vaccine trial: an effective rate of over 90%. If this proves true, it could hasten the return of worldwide travel sooner than many of us expected.
A Promising New COVID-19 Vaccine
As new COVID-19 cases spiral upward around the world at a concerning pace, drug maker Pfizer announced that its coronavirus vaccine trial has been widely successful in early testing stages. Noting both a 90% effective rate and no serious side effects or safety concerns, it has now requested emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Such authorization could be granted as soon as two-months of safety data is compiled.
Kathrin Jansen, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, told the New York Times:
“This is a historical moment. This was a devastating situation, a pandemic, and we have embarked on a path and a goal that nobody ever has achieved — to come up with a vaccine within a year.”
There are still many unknowns, of course. How long will the vaccine be effective? Will there be any long-term effects that do not manifest themselves for many months?
Early production would be limited, so expect the vaccine to be highly-rationed. By the end of 2021, however, Pfizer estimates it can produce over one billion vaccines…and that’s just Pfizer. 10 other vaccines are in late-stage trials.
Work on this vaccine began at a BioNTech lab in Mainz, Germany in late January, the day the first case in France was detected. In March BioNTech partnered with Pfizer.
What Does COVID-19 Vaccine Mean For Travel?
As exciting as news of a vaccine is, it will not re-open international borders immediately, even if it shortly gains regulatory approval. Still, as trials continue to validate it and production ramps up, a successful vaccine has the potential to re-open the world by the middle of 2021.
Such a vaccine could not only re-open borders, but even replace our need to wear masks (though I tend to think masks will be around quite a bit longer).
Don’t expect any short term changes, but the beleaguered airlines and hotels have much to look forward to in the second half of 2021 if this vaccine (and others) proves effective.
We would all be wise to take a measured approach to this news. Make no mistake, there is cause for celebration. But the news was released via press release, not peer review. Scientists must perform immense additional testing before the public should feel fully confident taking this vaccine. Nevertheless, an effective vaccine could rapidly accelerate our return to international travel.
I’m amazed at how scientists around the world have been working around the clock to develop this vaccine. Let us now hope that trials continue to reveal additional candidates for a successful and side-effect-free vaccine for COVID-19.