COVID-19 Vaccines – What you need to know
27th February 2021
The past year has sparked doubt and uncertainty in all areas of our lives. While news of a vaccine has made us hopeful, it is understandable to be apprehensive about what this means. Since the outbreak, scientists have been working to find a vaccine which will help to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There are currently 64 vaccines in clinical development and another 174 in preclinical development. At present, there are three vaccines approved for the use in the EU: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
Pfizer and BioNTech created the breakthrough vaccine, which was granted approval by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) in December of 2020. Pfizer/BioNtech use mRNA technology in their vaccine by using the virus which causes COVID-19, SARS-Co-2. This has a unique physical structure that is used to prime an immune response. Although mRNA technology has been used in many different forms over the years, this is the first time it is being used for a vaccine.
The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine is delivered in two doses within 21-28 days apart with 95% efficiency and until recently had to be kept below minus 60 degrees which made the roll out difficult. The recent development that this vaccine no longer requires extreme cold temperatures when storing means that it is now “even easier to transport and use”. Ireland expects to receive 5.4 million units of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine by the end of 2021. Side effects are said to be mild for this vaccine, comprising only pain and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills, and fever.
Moderna’s vaccine to combat COVID-19 was approved by the EMA on January 6th and like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine uses mRNA technology. It requires two doses 28 days apart – and the efficiency of this stands at 94.1%. Moderna’s vaccine also needs to keep at low temperatures. Side effects that have been reported from Moderna’s vaccine are pain and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, chills, fever, swollen or tender lymph nodes under the arm, headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea, and vomiting. Although these side effects were reported to be common, they were mostly mild to moderate. Ireland is expected to receive 870,000 doses by the end of 2021.
“At present, there are three vaccines approved for the use in the EU: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.”
The most recent vaccine to be approved on the 29th of January by the EMA, which has begun to be distributed in Ireland, is AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University. This vaccine is made up of another virus that has been modified to contain the gene for making a protein from SARS-Co-2. This technology has been used for many vaccines, including Zika and the flu. It also requires two doses 28 days apart. Side effects after this vaccine were reported to be similar as the others. The effectiveness of this vaccine according to AstraZeneca is around 76 to 82%, but the EMA has deemed it 60% effective because of results showing that 64 out of 5,200 who received it in the trail went on to develop symptomatic COVID 19 infections. This vaccine stands out among the others because it does not need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, but can be transported and stored between 2 and 8 degrees for up to six months. The AstraZeneca vaccine is also considerably cheaper starting at $3 – $4 per shot unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech, the prices of which begin at $20 per shot. In AstraZeneca’s clinical trials, there was a lack of data from over-65s; as a result of this, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Poland, and Belgium have chosen not to approve it for their older population. Ireland has decided to use the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine for over-70s which has resulted in major reorganisation of the roll out. Ireland should have received 190,000 doses of AstraZeneca in February and another 95,000 in early March.
The EU has expressed their frustration with the UK-based vaccine: while they had been expecting to receive 80 million doses by the end of March, they will only receive 31 million despite having already paid hundreds of millions of euros ahead of their approval to speed up production. AstraZeneca could be in breach of their contract with the EU for failing to provide the vaccines. Now the EU have purchase agreements with Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson and CureVac for use once approval is given. The COVID 19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy is a provisional list of priority groups that will be receiving the vaccine first as part of the state response to the pandemic. At the moment residents of long-term care, healthcare workers and people 85 and over are receiving their vaccines. Although we are a long way from being back to normal, these vaccines are vital to getting there.
- To see how many vaccines have been administrated in Ireland visit COVID-19 Tracker App
- Keep up to date with the developments of the vaccines on The Irish Times Vaccine Tracker.
Featured photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash