Penn Medicine researcher laid groundwork for Pfizer, Moderna vaccines

Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Penn researcher laid groundwork for Pfizer, Moderna vaccines
Penn researcher laid groundwork for Pfizer, Moderna vaccines

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A local researcher from Penn Medicine says there's reason to believe at least one other potential coronavirus vaccine could be as effective as Pfizer's vaccine is said to be.

"That's the highest number I have seen for a respiratory vaccine in humans," said Dr. Drew Weissman from the University of Pennsylvania.

He is pleasantly surprised with Pfizer's reported 90% efficacy with its experimental coronavirus vaccine. After all, he helped develop the technology for the vaccine.

It's called messenger RNA or mRNA.

"What's different about mRNA is it's a genetic vaccine," he said.

Pfizer said Monday that early results from its coronavirus vaccine suggest the shots may be a surprisingly robust 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.

Other vaccines, such as the flu shot, use live or inactivated virus to create an immune response, but mRNA tricks the body into mounting it's own defense.

The vaccine made by Moderna is similar and also uses mRNA. Because of that, Dr. Weissman expects similar efficacy.

What's still unknown is how long immunity from the vaccine would last.

"What we do know is in our animal studies, the antibody responses last a long time. We've gone years and antibody response hasn't dropped in monkeys, so I have high hopes durability will be very good," he said.

He also hopes enough people choose to get vaccinated to make a difference.

"If they do, the pandemic will be over in a year or so, if they don't know what's going to happen," he said.

Dr. Weissman says when the choice is getting a safe vaccine or getting sick with COVID-19 or passing it on, the decision should be clear.

Dr. Weissman was also a fellow at Dr. Anthony Fauci's lab years ago.