SHARE
COPY LINK

VACCINE

December vaccine rollout possible in Germany: BioNTech CEO

BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin on Thursday said the frontrunner Covid-19 vaccine his German firm is developing with Pfizer could be rolled out before the year is over in the United States or Europe.

December vaccine rollout possible in Germany: BioNTech CEO
Uğur Şahin, who founded BioNTech with his wife Özlem Türeci, in November 2019. Photo: DPA

“We are working at full speed,” he told AFP in a Zoom interview, confirming that the companies plan to apply for emergency use authorisation of their jab in the US on Friday, while European regulators will receive another batch of data “next week”.

“There is a chance that we can receive approval from the US or Europe or both regions this year still,” said Sahin. “We may even start delivering the vaccine in December,” he added, “if everyone works together very closely”.

READ ALSO: BioNTech: Four things to know about the German firm leading the Covid-19 vaccine

“There is a chance that we can receive approval from the US or Europe or both regions this year still,” said Sahin, 55, who is also BioNTech's chief executive.

“We may even start delivering the vaccine in December,” he added, “if everyone works together very closely”.

The BioNTech/Pfizer shot and another one being developed by US firm Moderna have taken the lead in the global chase for a vaccine, after large-scale trial data this month showed that their jabs were around 95 percent effective against Covid-19.

The twin breakthroughs have lifted hopes for an end to a pandemic that has infected more than 56 million people and caused more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide since the virus first emerged in China late last year.

The US, the European Union and a slew of other nations have already placed orders for hundreds of millions of doses of the top vaccine candidates in development.

Health workers, carers and people considered at high risk for severe Covid-19 are set to be first in line for the jabs.

'A normal winter'

Speaking from the western German city of Mainz, Sahin said if all the players involved — governments, pharma companies and vaccine logistics firms — “do a really good job”, then “we can succeed in vaccinating 60 to 70 percent of the population by the autumn of 2021.”

“And when we've accomplished that then we could have a normal winter. Without another shutdown.”

Beyond the US and EU, more than 30 countries are at different stages of negotiations to secure the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, Sahin said.

With concerns growing that poor nations could be left behind in the scramble, Sahin said BioNTech was talking to organisations like the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on distributing the vaccine “worldwide”, and finding ways to reduce its cost.

The price of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is expected to be around $20 (€17) per dose, with a booster shot to be taken 28 days after the first.

Experimental tech

Sahin and his wife Ozlem Tureci, both children of Turkish immigrants to Germany, founded BioNTech in Mainz in 2008.

Ozlem Tureci (left) and her husband Ugur Sahin (right). Photo: Biontech

They set out to fight cancer using an experimental technology known as “mRNA”, before the pandemic shifted their focus.

No mRNA vaccine has ever been approved but both the BioNTech/Pfizer and the
Moderna efforts are based on it.

The technology uses synthetic versions of molecules called “messenger RNA”
to hack into human cells, and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

Other contenders in late-stage testing like AstraZeneca/Oxford University and Johnson & Johnson are using the traditional approach of injecting people with modified viruses to trigger an immune response.

READ ALSO: The German husband-and-wife team behind the breakthrough Covid-19 vaccine

Sahin said he was “very confident” his vaccine was safe, a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a completed study of their trial — involving some 43,000 volunteers, more than 21,000 of whom received the jab — showed no serious side effects.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former scientist who has been praised for her handling of the coronavirus crisis so far, on Thursday said “we don't want to take any risks” on a vaccine, and that the latest news was encouraging.

Sahin predicts many more mRNA-based vaccines and drugs to come, potentially
transforming cancer treatments.

'Second generation'

Sahin said he and his wife planned “of course” to get their jabs as soon as
possible.

In a nod to vaccine sceptics, he said the only option was to keep providing “answers, information and transparency”.

He predicts that many people will want to be innoculated once a vaccine becomes available, numbers that would only grow when those people shared their positive experiences.

One big question that remains unanswered is how long the vaccine's protection lasts.

Sahin estimates it could be “at least a year, if not longer” but he stressed that more data was needed to reach a final conclusion.

A key challenge with BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine lies in the distribution, since it needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Sahin said Pfizer and BioNTech would use special cool boxes to store and transport the vaccine in the first few months.

But they are already developing a “second generation” of the vaccine that could stand warmer temperatures, he said.

Member comments

  1. How in the hell have they come up with a distributable vaccine after only a few months when they can’t even cure the common cold, which by the way is mostly what Covid-19 is,no more than a seasonal flu. I Will Not Be Taking A Vaccine!

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

SHOW COMMENTS