Normal life will resume in 2021, CEO of BioNTech tells CNN

Fred Pleitgen, Uğur Şahin, CEO of BioNTech

In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, Uğur Şahin, CEO of BioNTech, spoke on the continued rollout of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine after it received approval in the United Kingdom earlier that day. Sahin told CNN he believes this is the start of the end of the pandemic and that other countries will soon follow the UK in enabling authorisation of the vaccine, including the United States following further discussions with the Food and Drug Administration later this month.

When asked to make a prediction when life may return to normal again, Sahin believed that if there is a vaccination rate of 60-70%, it could give us the relief to have a normal 2021.

Key highlights

On how big a step this is towards beating the pandemic.

This is a very important milestone. It will be the first time that people outside of clinical trials will get access to our vaccine. And we believe that it’s really the start of the end of the pandemic, if we can ensure now a bold rollout out of the vaccine. Of course, this is the first country to enable an authorisation and the rest will probably follow. But it’s a good start.

On getting authorisation from the US FDA.

We are in close interaction with the FDA and addressing their questions, providing additional data. The next important meeting will be on December 10th, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting, and after the VRBPAC meeting, depending on the outcome of this meeting, it could be very fast. So, it could happen that the days after the VRBPAC meeting, we might get the authorisation. And if we get the authorisation, we’ll be able to start the delivery of the vaccine very fast.

How much has already been produced?

We have already produced a lot of doses in the last week. The vaccine doses are now going to be released with quality certificates. We already mentioned that we will deliver up to 50 million doses in different regions in 2020. But that means significant proportion of those doses is also going to the United States. Of course, it depends on when we would be able to start the roll out. So technically, we are prepared to start the roll out. It depends of course on the regulatory approval.

On the logistical challenge of supplying a vaccine that needs to be stored at around minus 100 Fahrenheit.

This is the early phase of pandemic supply. Of course, the early phase of pandemic supply is a logistical challenge for all of us. It’s not only the storage and the transportation of the vaccine, but also really getting the people to the right places at the right time and ensuring that they can come back for the second vaccination. We are in the moment working in analysing other transportation temperatures, just including minus 20°C. We are evaluating whether the vaccine is stable at 22.8 degrees for a longer time. What we also do is we are working already on a second generation of formulation, which might allow us even transportation at room temperature.  We will see that this will progress…

On second generation’s availability.

First of all, what is important is that in the next few months, we will get additional data supporting the transportation of the vaccine for example at minus 20°C. So that’s the first change. The second generation will be available most likely in the second half of 2021.

On when we will begin to see life going back to normal.

Every individual who receives the vaccine will most likely have a benefit. We have demonstrated for our vaccine a 95% protection from this disease. So, it will be a benefit for everyone getting this vaccine including those who are averse to severe disease. To ensure that we are able to stop this pandemic, we need to reach a high vaccination rate. Experts give different numbers, 60% to 70% is a number proportion of people having an immune response, which could enable stopping the vaccine. I believe there’s a number of companies now reaching the approval in the next few months. We might be able to deliver a sufficient number of doses until the end of summer 2021 to reach the 60% to 70% coverage, which could give us the relief to have a normal 2021.

Source: CNN.