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Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine: Less effective against Delta variant?

The alleged involvement of Pfizer in the patent battle has led to scrutiny. Image credit: Roman Tiraspolsky / 123rf. Pfizer vaccine concept. Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine concept.
Image credit: Roman Tiraspolsky / 123rf

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 has registered a lower level of efficacy in preventing the Delta variant first identified in India, according to new data from Israel. 

Effectiveness of the vaccine has dropped to 64 percent in preventing infection as the Delta variant spreads in Israel, now accounting for ninety percent of the country’s cases. Previously, Israeli data indicated a 91.2 percent efficacy in preventing infection and 99 percent effectiveness in preventing symptomatic infection, as well as a 93 percent effectiveness in preventing hospitalisations and severe disease. 

As reports, “experts have expressed doubt regarding the analysis of infection rates in Israel in recent weeks and the [health] ministry’s epidemiology team has also questioned it.” Experts expressed concern to the publication over the modelling used by the health ministry, with one telling Haaretz “there are enormous methodological challenges in properly assessing the efficacy of the vaccine from local outbreaks.” Professor Ron Balicer “added that it is very difficult to gauge vaccine efficacy when COVID tests are performed selectively.” However, the report does note that “health sources believe that the [Pfizer/BioNTech] inoculation’s efficacy against the Delta variant is much lower than initially presumed.” 

Dervila Keane, a spokesperson for Pfizer, did not comment on the findings. However, Keane expressed optimism that the vaccine “will continue to protect against these variants.”  

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is not among those currently being used for India’s inoculation programme, which recently surpassed 35 crore doses being administered. In June, Pfizer’s chief executive officer Albert Bourla told a virtual event that the drugmaker was in the “final stages” of securing approval for the vaccine. However, sources told the press on Tuesday said that Pfizer has yet to apply for a procuring license despite having been written to twice by the Drug Controller General of India to apply for emergency use authorisation in India. Pfizer did apply for emergency use authorisation in India last year. However, it rescinded that application earlier this year following a meeting with regulators, whilst intending to resubmit. 

According to Dr Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, “Pfizer is negotiating as far as the various clauses are concerned and they are very close to reaching an agreement with the government. Once that is done then we will shortly be able to have these vaccines in our country. Negotiation with the company is going on. I am sure they are reaching the final stage now.” 

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