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Europe will reach herd immunity by August: BioNTech Chief Ugur Sahin

While the exact threshold required to reach that critical level of immunization remains a matter of debate, experts say a level above 70 percent would significantly disrupt transmission of the coronavirus within a population.

April 28, 2021 / 06:18 PM IST
Source: AP

Source: AP


Europe can achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus within the next four months, the head of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine with US partner Pfizer, said Wednesday.


While the exact threshold required to reach that critical level of immunization remains a matter of debate, experts say a level above 70 percent would significantly disrupt transmission of the coronavirus within a population.


“Europe will reach herd immunity in July, latest by August,” Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s chief executive, told reporters.


His company’s vaccine makes up a large share of the doses administered in Europe and North America, where it is more commonly known as the Pfizer shot.


Sahin said data from people who have received the vaccine show that the immune response gets weaker over time, and a third shot will likely be required.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Studies show the efficacy of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine declines from 95 percent to about 91 percent after six months, he said.


“Accordingly, we need a third shot to get the vaccine protection back up to almost 100 percent again” Sahin said.


Vaccine recipients currently receive a second dose three weeks after their first shot, although some countries have longer intervals. Sahin suggested the third should be administered nine to 12 months after the first shot.


“And then I expect it will probably be necessary to get another booster every year or perhaps every 18 months,” he said.


Concerns have been raised that existing vaccines might be less effective against new variants of the virus now emerging in different parts of the world.


Sahin said BioNTech has tested its vaccine against more than 30 variants, including the now-dominant one first detected in Britain, and found the shot triggers a good immune response against almost all of them in the lab. In cases where the immune response was weaker, it remained sufficient, he said, without providing exact figures.


Asked about the new variant first detected in India, Sahin said the vaccine’s effectiveness against it was still being investigated.


“But the Indian variant has mutations that we have previously investigated and against which our vaccine also works, so I am confident there, too,” he said.


The Mainz-based company’s work developing a vaccine based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, benefited from its earlier research into pharmaceuticals to treat cancer, as tumors often try to adapt to evade the immune system, Sahin said.


“The way our vaccine works is that it has two points of attack,” he explained. Along with stimulating the production of antibodies, it prompts the body’s so-called T-cells to attack the virus, he said.


“The vaccine is quite cleverly constructed, and the bulwark will hold. I’m convinced of that,” Sahin said. “If the bulwark needs to be strengthened again, we’ll do so. I’m not worried.”

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.



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Associated Press
first published: Apr 28, 2021 06:12 pm
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