Vaccine Approved! How R&D Is Ending The COVID-19 Pandemic

The end is in sight

With the emergence of novel coronavirus COVID-19, so began the global race for a vaccine to end the nightmare. All year we’ve been unsure if such a vaccine could even ever exist, whilst scientists across the world battled to come up with the answer. And now, at lightning speed, the UK has become the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine that will hopefully draw the pandemic to a close.

On the 2nd December, UK regulators granted emergency-use authorisation to Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, just seven months after clinical trials began. Elderly care home residents and those who look after them are already receiving the first doses.

It is expected that this will be the first vaccine of many to come online across the world - it’s certainly the moment we’ve all been waiting for. But research and development doesn’t stop there; there’s plenty of work still to do in rolling out the vaccines to millions of people.

How does the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine showed promise right from the earliest stages of testing and has always been a strong contender. It’s a brand new type of vaccine, known as an mRNA vaccine, and is made using a tiny amount of genetic code taken from the COVID-19 virus. It works by essentially ‘teaching’ the body to fight this new invader and therefore build immunity.

But the R&D has only just started

These mRNA vaccines are so new they’ve only ever been used on humans before in clinical trials. Logistics have also been a problem that R&D has had to solve, in that the vaccine must be stored at an unusually low temperature of around -70C. This makes transporting it difficult, resulting in up to 5,000 doses being packed in dry ice and transported in special boxes.

Although the vaccine, once delivered, can be stored in a standard fridge for up to five days, once it’s out of the fridge it must be used in less than six hours. With some areas (and populations) difficult to reach, R&D is set to continue in solving these logistical challenges - not least with Brexit just around the corner.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is of course not the only one, with several others jostling for approval. The UK’s AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine from Massachusetts, USA, are just two more that have shown to significantly reduce COVID-19 infection. However, no vaccine has been proven to be 100% effective all the time, meaning that even after immunisation some people could remain susceptible to asymptomatic infection. And of course, this leads to further community transmission.

All three of these contenders have made it clear that research is continuing to improve their vaccine’s efficacy. Indeed, studies are ongoing around the extent to which they can protect against such transmission.

How long will vaccine-induced immunity last?

The million dollar question. Everything is so brand new that frankly not enough time has passed, which is again why R&D in this area will continue over the coming months and years.

There have been reports of unvaccinated people catching COVID-19 twice, sometimes with severe symptoms the second time but often with no symptoms at all. There are also signs that the body’s immune system “remembers” previous COVID-19 infection and kicks into action rapidly if the virus is detected again. This is ultimately how vaccines work too. However, ongoing monitoring of public health amongst those who have been vaccinated will be crucial for a long time to come. Scientists need to understand if and when the efficacy of their vaccines start to wane. In addition to keeping track of the infection rate amongst people who have been immunised, their levels of antibodies and immune cells will also need to be assessed periodically.

How well do the vaccines work in groups such as older people and children?

It has long been known that certain age groups are far more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 infection than others. So far, the major vaccine trials have enrolled tens of thousands of people across the world. But for each one, fewer than 200 people then contracted the disease, making it difficult to break up the data into different age groups and comorbidities for instance. Work is therefore set to continue into gathering more data around the effects of the vaccines across different demographics.

Earliest indications show that these three leading vaccines are effective in protecting people over the age of 65. But researchers will still require real-world data over time, once larger numbers of people across more ages have been vaccinated. This data will be key in insuring no sections of the populations remain vulnerable.

Lastly, there is extremely limited data on how the vaccines work in children, and what effects they have on pregnant women and foetuses. Again, this is where R&D work will continue to play a crucial role. However, in early December Moderna revealed its plans to start testing its vaccine in adolescents.

R&D funding

Without research and development, these phenomenal steps forward in modern science would clearly never have happened. But R&D in any field is expensive - sometimes prohibitively so.

HMRC-backed R&D Tax Credits can go a long way in covering the costs, not just in pharmaceuticals but in any industry at all. As long as a technical or scientific uncertainty was addressed, as much as 33% of R&D expenditure can be claimed back via the Tax Cloud portal. It’s a fully guided and supported way of making a hassle-free claim, and any resulting money can be spent as you wish.

We also recommend reading our recent blog: Why Your Business Needs Tax Cloud.

If you’re interested in understanding more about funding R&D in your UK company, call our experts on 0207 360 4437. You can also send us a message and we'll be pleased to advise you.

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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