A Turkish scientist in the US called the latest developments on coronavirus vaccine a “victory of humanity and science,” as one candidate applied for emergency use authorization with 95% efficiency.
“Where we are now is beyond our estimates,” Dr. Derya Unutmaz, a principal investigator at Connecticut-based Jackson Laboratory, told Anadolu Agency.
He recalled vaccine candidates by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna drug companies had 95% efficacy, saying that is “a great success”.
“Our expectation has been around 60%-70%. And we can say that with completely new technology — mRNA technology — the development of these vaccines with record rates in such a short time as six months is a great turning point,” Dr. Unutmaz said.
He expects the only vaccine candidate that applied for the emergency use authorization last Friday, which belongs to BioNTech-Pfizer, will likely receive approval “in the first week of December, or the second week at the latest.”
“The distribution of vaccines will begin within 24 hours after receiving emergency use authorization, and first, all healthcare personnel will be vaccinated,” he added.
‘Difficult winter ahead’
Dr. Unutmaz warned that the US is facing “a very difficult” winter and therefore the fight against the virus should be intensified as more than 100,000 lives are still in danger.
“Even if the vaccine is found, it cannot be distributed before March or April. We have a very difficult winter ahead. Thanksgiving is celebrated this week and there is an upcoming Christmas season. Nobody abandons their holiday plans. In the next two months, the pandemic may continue at a full speed and more than 100,000 lives may be lost, if not 140,000 as expected.”
He said the light at the end of the tunnel is visible and added: “Therefore, I think we’re at the most critical time of this war, this world corona war. And, the rest is up to us. If we can act very carefully with our masks and social distance, especially indoors, we’ll definitely overcome this, but we have to get through this winter.”
Trump’s handling of coronavirus
Dr. Unutmaz criticized US President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response and said he could not handle the virus “well.”
“In a country with the most advanced technology in the world, more than a quarter-million people should not have lost their lives,” he said.
“However, the federal government has given very significant support for vaccine. It has invested about $10 billion with a system called ‘Warp Speed,’ and now we see the fruits of it.”
He emphasized that the vaccine will be free for everyone in the US and expressed trust for President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
“I think the process will get better with the new administration.”
The US continues to lead the world with coronavirus cases and deaths. It has more than 12.8 million infections and nearly 263,500 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.
BioNTech couple ‘source of pride’
Calling the founders of BioNTech Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci “source of price” for their breakthrough work, Unutmaz said the couple has been researching mRNA technology for cancer patients since 2005.
They thought that this technology could also be useful for flu treatment, and then they discovered that it could also be used against COVID-19, and they developed it, he said.
BioNTech and Pfizer expect to produce globally up to 50 million doses in 2020 and as many as 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
The phase 3 trial began July 27 on 43,661 global participants with 41,135 receiving a second dose on Nov. 8.
*Beyza Binnur Donmez from Ankara contributed to the story
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