EXPLAINER: The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Photo by Guido Hofmann on Unsplash

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has demonstrated high effectiveness and since September 2021 Namibia has also obtained the vaccine.

Namibia has gained access to the vaccine through two donations from the US government through the US Embassy in Namibia. On 24 September 2021, Namibia received the first batch of 100,620 doses of the vaccine from the US government, followed by the arrival of a second consignment of 124,000 doses on 22 October 2021. Namibia has thus received 224,620 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from the US.   

Here’s what you need to know about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine:

  • The vaccine is manufactured by American pharmaceutical multinational Pfizer Inc. and was developed by German biotechnology firm BioNTech in 2020;   
  • The vaccine is a Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, which “uses mRNA created in a laboratory to teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies”; 
  • The vaccine is officially called BNT162b2, but also goes by the names Comirnaty and Tozinameran;
  • In results published on 10 December 2020, the vaccine was demonstrated to be “95% effective in preventing Covid-19”; 
  • On 4 November 2021 it was reported that the vaccine’s efficacy “against Covid-19 was 91.3%” after six months, but that vaccine efficacy “against severe disease was 96.7%”;
  • It was also reported that in “South Africa, where the SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern B.1.351 (or beta) was predominant, a vaccine efficacy of 100% was observed”;
  • Against the Delta variant the vaccine, along with all others granted EUL status, has been demonstrated to be over 90% effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalisation, according to the WHO;  
  • On 11 December 2020, the vaccine was granted emergency use authorisation by the US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
  • The vaccine was granted emergency use listing (EUL) by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 31 December 2020, and conditional marketing authorisation by the European Medicines Agency on 21 December 2020;
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first vaccine to be granted WHO EUL status
  • The vaccine is the first fully approved vaccine, with the US’s FDA granting it full approval on 23 August 2021;
  • The most common side effects of the vaccine, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), are “usually mild or moderate and get better within a few days after vaccination. These included pain and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills, fever and diarrhoea”; 
  • As for more serious side effects, the EMA states: “A very small number of cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane around the heart) have occurred with Comirnaty. Allergic reactions have also occurred with Comirnaty, including a very small number of cases of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)”;
  • The vaccine has been approved for emergency use in 103 countries;
  • As of 15 November 2021, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is not yet approved for use in Namibia.

This article will be updated as new information becomes available about this vaccine.