Today, I had the opportunity to join a call organized by STAT News with the co-founders of BioNTech, the company behind the highly successful COVID vaccine. Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci are incredibly impressive people. Here were some of the highlights:
BioNTech was working on cancer vaccines as COVID appeared, but after Ugur read early reports of COVID cases in China, they realized their technology was well suited to making a COVID vaccine
Wuhan is one of the most heavily connected cities in China, perhaps explaining how the pandemic spread so quickly
We can’t expect the vaccine rollout to go smoothly right at the beginning, but they are confident we’ll improve as we gain experience
We are likely to get some data on asymptomatic infections amongst the vaccinated in February. (This may have implications for how long we have to wear masks, etc.)
If we delay the 2nd dose of a COVID vaccine in order to get more people their first dose, we should avoid delaying by too much. Whether we delay is a risk/benefit calculation best left to governments.
The new technology they’re most excited about is using immune mechanisms against cancer. They have a drug that’s within weeks of beginning testing.
These STAT Events are free and open to anyone. It was a fascinating call and I was honored to be able to ask a question to these incredible scientists (the answer is the last bullet point above). The recording of the meeting should go up on STAT’s website soon.
My friend Lidia* got the Pfizer COVID vaccine on Saturday. She is the first person I know to receive it, and her experience was great overall. She said her arm was extremely sore, and she felt feverish for about 30 minutes the day after, but other than that she’s okay.
Lidia is 35 and works at a hospital, where she treats COVID patients. She has been on the front lines all year and, with the combination of a face shield and surgical mask, never contracted the virus. I remember being very worried about her this spring, especially when I heard about nurses wearing trash bags rather than gowns. But her facility had what it needed and she came through okay.
I am very happy for her. Maybe she can worry less now. And we, her friends and family, can breathe more easily too.
The side effects are real, but compared to a case of COVID, it sounds like a good bargain. My friend Jim*, who is the same age, had COVID last month and had headaches and body aches for two full weeks.
I can’t wait for my turn to get this wonderful drug! If anyone out there works at Pfizer, you got a steak on me. 🙂