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Updated 2 July 2021
India, slowly emerging from the clutches of the second wave, is now rapidly progressing its nationwide vaccination program. The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved four vaccines so far: Covishield (Oxford/AstraZeneca), Covaxin, Sputnik V, and Moderna.
Pfizer is one amongst several other vaccine candidates awaiting the emergency use authorisation from the DGCI. Let us take a closer look at the Pfizer/Biontech COVID-19 vaccine; its efficacy, cost, side effects, how it works and its current progress in getting approved.
How does the Pfizer Vaccine work?
Among the available COVID-19 vaccines currently, there are four distinct types: whole virus (this can again be a weakened form or inactivated coronavirus), protein subunit, and nucleic acid (RNA or DNA) and viral vector. US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have co-developed the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine called BNT162b2.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2 is a messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA) vaccine meaning that the vaccine carries genetic instructions that help the recipient’s cells to produce protein pieces that trigger immune system response. The response is in the form of the reproduction of millions of copies of spike protein, which stimulates antibodies.
This is the same spike protein that is available in the coronavirus and used to enter the cells in the human body. If a sufficient number of antibodies are produced in the human body with the mRNA vaccine, they will prevent the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from proliferating, thus protecting the recipient from COVID-19.
How effective is the Pfizer Vaccine?
The Pfizer vaccine works with two doses, where the second one is registered 21 days after the first one. On administration of the first dose, the immune system is alerted, and post the second one, it gets a boost, thus providing the immunity to fight off the virus. Efficacy is 52% after the first dose and raises up to 95% after the second jab. So, it takes around four weeks to build immunity after the first dose (could happen earlier as well).
Though it is not exactly known how long the vaccine immunity will last, a new study shows surprising evidence that COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer may offer longer-lasting immunity than thought. Forty-one people took part in this study, some of whom had recovered from COVID-19. The scientists studied lymph node samples of 14 of them.
The researchers also found that Pfizer vaccines provide robust protection for at least 12 weeks after a second dose and could provide low-level protection for at least a year.
This study adds to a growing body of evidence that the protection from the virus-induced by the vaccines could be long-lasting. It may mean that booster shots for the mRNA coronavirus vaccines aren’t needed anytime soon. Hence it is strongly recommended that you complete the vaccine course, i.e. take both doses before you leave your city.
Are there any reported side effects?
As far as safety is concerned, the Pfizer vaccine has an overall great safety profile with its benefits outweigh the potential risks.
So, if you are taking the vaccine, know that the injection site on your arm might hurt a little, show some redness, and get swollen a bit. You might also experience difficulties in moving your arm freely. Other known side effects of the Pfizer vaccine includes:
- Joint pains
These side effects happen within a day or two of getting the vaccine. They are normal signs that your body is building protection and should go away within a few days.
Pfizer vaccine in India
On December 4, 2020, Pfizer became the first pharmaceutical firm to approach the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), seeking emergency use authorisation for its COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly seven months later, the company remains in talks with the government, with no clarity as to when the vaccine will ever be made available in India.
The main issue now is the indemnity clause that the company insists upon. In the case of vaccine makers, an indemnity clause would mean that they would not be held legally responsible in case of unforeseen complications that might emerge from vaccination. And while Pfizer has secured such a guarantee in the US, UK and several other nations, India does not presently provide any such assurance to COVID-19 vaccine makers.
India gave Moderna the green light on 30 June 2021. Officials have reported that soon after Moderna, Pfizer too will get the go-ahead from the DCGI. There is however no exact timeline available.
How much is the price of the Pfizer vaccine in India?
It is estimated that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may be priced under $10 (around Rs 730) per dose in India. This could be the lowest price for the mRNA-based jab globally and almost half the rate in developed markets such as the UK, US and EU.
According to a Pfizer spokesperson, Pfizer has offered to make the required doses of COVID-19 vaccine available at a not-for-profit price for India, as for all low and lower-middle income countries, once they have the necessary regulatory clearance.
We will update this article as new developments unfold.