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Pfizer's possible coronavirus vaccine has expert 'excited' and 'cautiously optimistic'

"This is the first step, and it's the first step of many," NBC News medical correspondent Dr. Joseph Fair said.
/ Source: TODAY

For months now, public health experts have said that the coronavirus will continue to spread in some capacity until there's a vaccine to protect against it. At the beginning of the U.S. outbreak, some speculated it could be ready as soon as the fall; however, more recent and realistic timelines suggest some time next year.

A crucial step toward a coronavirus vaccine came Wednesday, when pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech released new clinical data on its experimental vaccine. Of the 45 people between 18 and 55 years old who took part in the trial, 24 received two doses of the vaccine. They all developed higher levels of COVID-19 antibodies than typically seen in recovered patients.

"These first trial results show that the vaccine yields immune activity and causes a strong immune response," BioNTech's co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters.

The Pfizer vaccine is one of many currently going through clinical trials on humans, and it's one of a few early-stage COVID-19 drugs to show strong potential at this stage.

Discussing the results of Pfizer's product, NBC News medical correspondent Dr. Joseph Fair told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie that he was "cautiously optimistic."

"As several people have said, this is the first step, and it's the first step of many," he explained. "There's still quite a long way to go ... There is the potential for adverse events ... the patient getting sick from the vaccine, and that's the No. 1 thing we want to avoid. Second, we want to make sure the vaccine does offer protection, and then thirdly, we want to know how long it offers protection for."

Fair, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus in May, added that the technology behind the vaccine, which manipulates the virus’s genetic code to boost the body’s immunity, is "incredibly exciting."

"It has never actually been used in a vaccine," he said. "We've always hoped that it would be ... This would be the first time it would create a successful vaccine, if indeed that is what happens."

When asked about the benefit of this novel strategy, Fair explained: "You're picking very specific parts of the virus that you want to make antibodies to ... so when (your body) first encounters it, say through a cough or sneeze ... your body is already repaired and ... has an arsenal at its disposal ready to fight it as soon as you're exposed — theoretically."

While this specific vaccine holds promise, it alone may not be enough to protect the world against the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said.

“I’d love to see more than one vaccine get to the goal line, as it were,” he told BBC Thursday. “The world needs more than one vaccine.”

The Pfizer vaccine still has to undergo two larger trials before possible approval. They will include more diverse subjects, including the elderly, pregnant women and people of color. Pfizer said it hopes to have approval by the end of this year and that it could make up to 100 million doses by then.