Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger / Flash 90
A resident of Holon receives the flu vaccine, December 20, 2009 (archive image).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call at 2 AM Thursday, with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, as well as Deputy Attorney General Roi Sheindorf and the legal adviser for Pfizer – to remove all the bureaucratic impediments and difficulties and sign the agreement.

According to Netanyahu’s Office, significant progress was achieved during the call which will enable the signing of an agreement between the State of Israel and Pfizer in the coming days.

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Last Monday, Pfizer announced that its experimental vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing the Covid-19 infection, based on initial data from a large study, which is a major victory in the fight against the pandemic.

But many experts have cautioned that as long as the Pfizer data has not been reviewed by outside peers we can’t trust the company’s claims, no matter how much we wish they were true. The 90% effectiveness claim is sensational – the US Food and Drug Administration only requires a 50% effectiveness for a coronavirus vaccine. So, is it real? And even if the data holds up to scrutiny, will the vaccine perform as well out in the real world as it has done in controlled clinical trials?

Here’s another reason why we should probably let some other guy roll up his sleeve for the Pfizer vaccine before we take our seat before the HMO nurse: Pfizer has yet to release its safety data – they will come, they promised, in late November, which would be two months after most test subjects received their second dose.

We know that Pfizer’s early testing showed some side effects including sore arms, fever, chills, and fatigue. The company decided to move ahead, while two other companies suspended their vaccine trials to look into safety issues.

Besides the safety data, here are some more things we don’t yet know about the Pfizer vaccine:

How long does it continue to protect against the disease?

Is it effective in treating high-risk groups such as the elderly, whose immune systems may not be so responsive?

Will it fight severe coronavirus infections already on the way?

Is it effective against complications resulting from the virus?

Can we trust vaccinated individuals not to be carriers of the virus?

Pfizer reported that 42% of the trial participants racially diverse, but the company hasn’t released the data on which racial group responds better to the vaccine.

America’s favorite immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the first recipients may get the vaccine “very likely before the end of this year.” But should we be leery at the fact that the FDA’s permit for Pfizer’s continued testing is emergency-use authorization, grounded as much in political motivations as in medicine?

Then there’s the practical issue of keeping the vaccines alive once the process of testing them has been completed and Pfizer goes about producing billions of doses for the benefit of the entire world’s population. Turns out the Pfizer vaccine must be refrigerated at minus 94 Fahrenheit, which is much colder than normal hospital freezers’ capacity. To date, no one other than the US Army appears to have these facilities. So if you’re in the market, look for outfits that are already working on sub-arctic refrigeration.

Here’s another wrinkle: the Pfizer vaccine is using an ingenious technique to proliferate – it is not a dead or weak sample of the coronavirus, instead it is a genetic code which, once shot into our bodies, our muscle cells utilize to produce the complete specimen.

Genetic code is way easier to produce than a whole virus which is very difficult to keep alive (yes, ironic). There’s another advantage: if the so and so virus mutates, why we shoot you up with a new code and your body does the rest.

Pfizer bought this stunning technology from a German company called BioNTech, and it’s like nothing humanity has ever tried before.

And that’s the wrinkle: we’ve never done this before. The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is the first test of this ingenious technology. Each one of us must consider, do I want to essentially be a guinea pig, letting into my body a piece of genetic code I can’t possibly give back later?

It should be noted that clinical trial results are expected later this month from Moderna, the company PM Netanyahu gambled on with his government’s money first. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson expect to deliver theirs by New Year’s. This reporter would rather sit back a while and see how other folks are responding to all these vaccines before going to stand in line outside the nurse’s office.

I can do another three years of wearing a facemask and washing my hands like I have OCD. I’m an Orthodox Jew. To me, this is just one very, very long Purim.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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