Coronavirus live news: ‘Highly likely’ BioNTech vaccine works against new variant; Taiwan confirms first local case since April

More from our Kate Connelly at the BioNTech presser in Germany:

Uğur Şahin, the CEO of BioNTech, the German biotechnology company behind the first Covid 19 vaccine, was asked at a press briefing when he believed the world might be able to return to normal, following the roll out of vaccine programmes.

Şahin said:

We need a new definition of ‘normal’. The virus will stay with us for the next 10 years. We need to get used to the fact there’ll be more outbreaks.

However, a ‘new normal’ would mean not having to go into lockdown, businesses not having to close, and hospitalisations not being as commonplace. “That can happen by the end of the summer,” he said.

He said the vaccine would not change lives quickly. He said:

This winter we will not have an impact on the infection numbers. But we must have an impact so that next winter can be the new normal.

The company said it was “scouting every location” to expand its production of the vaccine as much as possible, to boost what it called the “scarcity of the vaccine”.

It said its capacity by the end of 2021 was for 1.3 billion doses.

Sierk Poetting, BioNTech’s Chief Financial Officer said:

We are trying to optimise our production capacities.

Şahin also sounded a note of caution around the often quoted figure of 60 to 70 per cent being the necessary proportion of the population which will need to be vaccinated in order for so-called herd immunity to be reached.

If the virus becomes more efficient…we might need a higher uptake of the vaccine for life to return to normal.

Özlem Türeci, his partner, and the Chief Medical Officer of the company, told the briefing that BioNTech was involved in a dedicated programme to look at whether ‘sub groups’ such as pregnant women, younger children and immune compromised individuals could be vaccinated. She said:

There is a dedicated programme with several studies planned over the next few months… which will look into the subgroups. It is being planned with the regulatory authorities.

Asked when it may be known whether the vaccine is effective in stopping the spread of the disease, Türeci said data collection was “ongoing”. She said:

We are testing the vaccinees we have (already) immunized.

Results on transmission were expected in February at the latest, she said.
As to how long people could expect to remain immune after vaccination, Türeci said they needed time to pass so they could follow up on the vaccinees.

She said the company so far has data for three months past the second dose, “and we see stability of the anti-body response in particular”. Depending on how the efficacy appeared over time, she said, they would decide “whether boosters are needed (and) at what intervals they are needed.”

She said it was not recommended to reduce the time between the two vaccine doses to less three weeks. Şahin said the company was also working on whether it could reduce the extreme temperature at which the vaccine needs to be kept. He said:

We will update at the end of January on this. We are confident we can come up with more relaxed conditions and stability, but we are waiting for the results.

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