BioNTech is testing the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer against a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus as it prepares to send 12.5 million doses to EU countries by the end of year.
The new strain of the coronavirus which is now in many parts of the world such as South Africa, Britain has caused a lot of panic in the midst of people thereby disrupting the Christmas festival as more people were required to isolate as government imposed more stricter measures in order to curb the spread of the disease.
In South Africa for example, more than 60% of newly reported cases are said to be related to the new strain of the virus which however didn’t originate from the UK’s strain but evolved on its own after numerous mutation which is basically what viruses do as more people pass the infection around, the genetic materials on the virus change over time with little tweaks.
The EU on the other is gearing up as well for a mass vaccination campaign following approval of the Pfizer and BionNTech vaccines.
The EU deliveries amount to more than half the 20 million doses expected to be available in the United States before the end of the year, BioNTech’s chief business officer, Sean Marett, told a briefing.
Meanwhile for the complete dosage, two rounds of doses of the vaccines needs to be administered over the period of three weeks apart while the supplies are enough to immunize some 6.35 million people in the continent.
The new strain has however being stated to be 60% more infectious than the original strain of the virus according to claims by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson who made this known during a press meeting a week ago.
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said the company is testing whether the vaccine is effective against the variant strain and expects results in the next two weeks.
“There is no reason to be concerned or worried until we get the data,” he said.
With the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine approved, the 27 EU member states will be slated to get immunized as the mass development of the vaccines will be produced in Belgium for Pfizer while BioNTech will make use of its Germany facility. Belgium is where the vaccination is expected to start by Saturday or today Sunday.
“We have a very tight delivery schedule into all the European countries,” chief financial officer Sierk Poetting said.
Pfizer and BioNTech have said they expect to produce 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Executives at the German biotech company said it is looking for ways to boost output capacity to meet global demand as governments struggle to tame the pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people globally and crushed economies worldwide.
BioNTech plans to start production in February at its new site in Marburg, Germany, Poetting said. The big pharma also stated that facility which it acquired back in September would have an annual production capacity of about 750 million doses.
“We are scouting every possibility to produce as many vaccines as possible in 2021 and then thereafter,” said Poetting, adding that there was nothing specific to discuss yet.
Since the number of cases reported in Europe has spiked in recent times just as those in the United States, the approval of the vaccines in the continent will be a big step to tackling further spread and future cases of the virus as US already followed in the footsteps of the UK government in vaccination campaign while the rest of the world hope to get vaccinated by the year 2021 through to 2022.
Sahin estimated that 60-80% of the global population could be vaccinated by autumn next year, as vaccines by other drugmakers like Moderna also get rolled out.
“This is really important, because this winter we will not have an impact on the infection numbers, but we must have an impact so that the next winter will be the new normal,” he said.