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Pfizer begins testing possible COVID-19 vaccine on humans stateside

Last Updated May 6, 2020 at 8:29 am PDT

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, orange, emerging from the surface of cells, gray, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP

Pfizer has already begun testing a potential COVID-19 vaccine on humans

An infectious disease expert says he's cautiously optimistic with the speed at which vaccines are being tested

A vaccine is widely seen as the way to end the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW YORK (NEWS 1130) – The race to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 is intensifying with one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies now testing on humans.

Pfizer, which is working with German biotechnology company BioNTech, says healthy volunteers have been injected with the first of four vaccine candidates this week.

“The short, less than four-month timeframe in which we’ve been able to move from pre-clinical studies to human testing is extraordinary and further demonstrates our commitment to dedicating our best-in-class resources, from the lab to manufacturing and beyond, in the battle against COVID-19,” said Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO, Pfizer in a news release.

Researchers have tried to identify the components of COVID-19 most noticed by the human immune system, trying to then teach the immune system what microbes to attack when the virus invades the body. The experimental vaccines are based on a form of genetic material called RNA which has never been approved to prevent an infectious disease.

Pfizer and BioNTech is just one of about 100 groups trying to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

“It’s wonderful to watch, I mean it’s incredible to see how many teams are working on this and it just gives me hope that we’re going to have an effective vaccine hopefully in the foreseeable future,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist out of the Toronto General Hospital.

“Vaccine research takes time and it’s really nice to see that many of these teams are taking that transition from the laboratory now into human trials.”

A vaccine, which normally takes years to develop, is widely seen as the way to end the COVID-19 pandemic, with life not expected to get completely back to normal until one is created.

“It’s helpful that they’re taking slightly different approaches. We know that most people who are working in the new drug or new vaccine realm, most of them will not be successful. They may have anywhere from one to three per cent of them develop a successful vaccine,” says Bogoch.

“But with 80 or 90 per cent of them working on this, that’s still okay, we might still get a few vaccines that are effective out of this.”

While all of the vaccine work being done around the world is promising, Bogosh is cautiously optimistic.

“The key thing here is we would want to see a vaccine that works and rushing through the process isn’t obviously the key,” he adds.

“It’s developing a quality vaccine that’s gonna be impactful and really protect populations and individuals and I’d be more than happy if a group took their time and was, you know, several months behind other groups, as long as they got it right.”

Pfizer says if testing goes well, it wants to scale up production for global supply, with millions of vaccine doses possibly produced as soon as this year.

-With files from The Canadian Press