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Reasons to be optimistic for a Covid-19 vaccine by Christmas, says expert

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Epidemiologist Professor Luke O’Neill has said he is confident a vaccine for Covid-19 will be available by the end of the year.

Prof O’Neill, a biochemist at Trinity College Dublin, suggested the data coming from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is very promising.

Pfizer has said it expects emergency authorisation use in the United States for its Covid-19 vaccine by the third week of November.

Prof O’Neill said the statement from Pfizer was very promising. He pointed out that, separately, Barclay’s Investment Bank has looked at the data and is predicting three vaccines approved by Christmas and five more in the middle of next year.

In a statement last month, the bank predicted the Pfizer vaccine has an 85 per cent chance of approval and it will be followed swiftly by others.

The bank also believes the majority of the populations of the US, the European Union and the UK will be vaccinated by the end of the third quarter next year.

“It’s a sign that people are looking at this in a positive way,” Prof O’Neill told The Brendan O’Connor Show on RTÉ Radio 1.

“Some might work better than the other. The question is who’s will be the most efficacious. The more we have the better.”

He revealed that there are hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccines already available as pharmaceutical companies are anticipating success.

“Can you imagine before Christmas if the headline is that the vaccine shows efficacy? They are going to ramp up production in the coming months.”

In addition antigen tests are being developed which will be able to indicate immediately if people are positive or negative for Covid-19.

He predicted that these antigen tests will be more widely available in the next two to three months and will make a return to normal life more certain.

Prof O’Neill said there is some other good news about Covid-19 with the efficiency of treatment seeing the numbers who die in ICUs dropping from 39 per cent to 12 per cent globally.

“The signs are that they are getting much better at treating patients,” he said.

However, he added that the Government needs more restrictions but should stop short of introducing Level 5 restrictions, especially those only allowing people to travel within five kilometres of home.

“They have to do something to get the numbers down. I can’t see a full Level 5, but what happens next? What is the plan when we come out of it?”

In the letter published on Friday, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said the company should know whether or not the vaccine is effective by the end of October, but cautioned that this data “may come earlier or later based on changes in the infection rates” among trial participants.

“To ensure public trust and clear up a great deal of confusion, I believe it is essential for the public to understand our estimated timelines,” he added.

To receive emergency authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer will have to submit safety data on at least half of the trial participants, outlining how they reacted for two months following the final dose.

“So let me be clear, assuming positive data, Pfizer will apply for emergency authorisation use in the US soon after the safety milestone is achieved in the third week of November,” Mr Bourla said.

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