Saturday, June 19

Scientist behind frontrunner vaccine hopes for return to ‘normal’ by next year – The Times of Israel

If coronavirus vaccinations are rolled out widely, life could return to “normal” by next winter, one of the scientists behind the front-running coronavirus vaccine told British television on Sunday.

Ugur Sahin, the Turkish co-founder of the German firm BioNTech, told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that “this winter will be hard,” without any major impact from vaccinations.

Together with US giant Pfizer, BioNTech is developing the leading candidate in the worldwide chase for a vaccine. Israel has ordered millions of units of the vaccine, hoping that the first deliveries will arrive in the country by January.

“If all goes well, we will start to deliver the vaccine at the end of this year, or beginning of next year,” Sahin said.

“Our goal is to deliver more than 300 million doses by April next year, which could already have an impact,” he said.

The infection rate will then go down in the summer, he predicted, adding that it is essential that there is a high take-up of the vaccination by autumn.

“I’m confident that this will happen, he said.

A number of vaccination companies are working to increase the supply, he said, “so, we could have a normal winter next (year).”

The logo of German company Biontech is pictured at the company’s headquarters in Mainz, western Germany, on November 12, 2020. (Daniel ROLAND/AFP)

Sahin and his wife Ozlem Tureci founded BioNTech in the western German city of Mainz in 2008. BioNTech is now worth $25.8 billion (21.8 billion euros), more than Germany’s largest lender Deutsche Bank.

Having identified promising vaccine blueprints, the company formed a partnership in March with American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

The announcement last Monday that their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in trials led news bulletins around the world, and sent stock markets and hopes soaring.

By Friday that week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase millions of coronavirus vaccine shots.

As part of the agreement with Pfizer, Netanyahu said Israel would receive 8 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 4 million Israelis. Netanyahu expressed hope that Pfizer would begin supplying the vaccine in January, pending authorization from health officials in the United States and Israel.

However, the Ynet news site reported that the deal does not obligate Pfizer to supply the vaccines, and only states that it intends to do so “according to circumstances.” If it fails to supply them, the company will return Israel’s advance.

Pfizer and BioNTech confirmed the deal with Israel in a joint statement late Thursday.

Though Pfizer’s announcement of its trial results so far sparked optimism that inoculations against the novel coronavirus could soon be available, its storage and transport require exceedingly cold temperatures, creating intense logistical complications.

Besides its agreements with Moderna and Arcturus, Israel has inked a deal with Italian biotech firm ReiThera to supply a vaccine if and when one is developed, and is in talks with Russia to purchase a vaccine that country is developing. Its own Biological Research Institute is also working on a vaccine candidate.

Earlier this month, Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center said it has preordered 1.5 million units of the Russian vaccine and that it would apply for Health Ministry approval to use the product, pending the final results of ongoing trials.

Since the start of the virus outbreak 323,741 people were diagnosed in Israel with the virus and 2,732 have died, according to Health Ministry figures released Sunday evening. There are 7,629 active patients, of whom 304 are in a serious condition.

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