Sceptics of Pfizer
Jess White explores public scepticism surrounding Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
On the 9th of December, Pfizer and BioNtech released news of the first approved vaccine found to be more than 90% effective for preventing COVID-19. The news was met with joy and relief, the vaccine means that there is an end in sight to the pandemic that has taken over one million lives. However, some people are sceptical about the fast emergence of Pfizer’s vaccine and the trustworthiness of the company itself. Leading many people to ask, is it safe?
Pfizer has been under fire in the past when a lawsuit was filed against them for promoting ‘off label’ uses of four of their drugs. This includes Bextra, a drug approved for treating rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and menstrual pain, which was instead promoted for treating pain relief after knee replacement surgery. While Doctors can prescribe drugs ‘off label’ for any use, producers like Pfizer can only legally advertise a drug for its approved uses which must also be accepted by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Resultingly, Pfizer was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $2.3 billion. With damaging scandals like this it only makes sense that people are sceptical of the released Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. However, the good news is that the vaccine has been approved in the UK by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an independent regulator. They have expressed confidence in Pfizer’s vaccine, ensuring its safety and effectiveness for use.
Even still many are concerned about the time that was spent testing the vaccine. Most vaccines take over a decade to pass the necessary clinical trials, whilst the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has taken less than a year. This can be attributed to the large amount of money and resources that have been directed towards finding a vaccine. Normally, clinical trials are halted due to lack of funding, because investors are only willing to support drug development they believe will be successful. The results from each trial phase must also be promising for companies to invest resources in the next phase. Fortunately, nearly limitless resources for the COVID-19 vaccine has allowed it to be possible to overlap phase one, two and three of testing. This has resulted in the vaccine being tested on a large number of people in a short space of time.
Now that some confidence has been established with the Pfizer vaccine it can be questioned who will receive it first? The first to receive the vaccine will be those who are administering the vaccine along with other frontline NHS staff, care workers and those over 80 years old. This will be followed by the over 70’s and high-risk immunocompromised patients, with over 60’s and people with underlying health conditions next in line. The priority groups will then descend in age order. As those over 65 are at the highest risk from severe complications of COVID-19, they are therefore most likely to need medical assistance. Therefore, the main focus of administering the vaccine is to lower numbers and reach a point where the NHS is no longer overwhelmed. Based on the time taken to distribute the flu jab to the over 65’s and that two doses of the vaccine (administered 21 days apart) are required, it is estimated that restrictions could be significantly relaxed by the end of March 2021.