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Behind the Headlines: The COVID-19 vaccine

13th November 2020 // Caroline Donoghue

This week, we have seen encouraging news about a COVID-19 vaccine as the manufacturers Pfizer and BioNTech released some results from their Phase III clinical trial. As a result, many people in the myeloma community are asking us when the vaccine will be available and whether it will be suitable for myeloma patients.

Current estimates suggest that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine could be available as soon as December, which is exciting news and changes the conversation from “if” to “when” a COVID-19 vaccine will be available. However, the full results are yet to be released and reviewed by other experts in the field (peer reviewed) in line with normal procedures for trials.

This means that detailed information on who took part in the trial and how the vaccine worked in different groups of patients has not yet been shared, so we don’t currently know if it will be safe and effective for myeloma patients. Once the data has been shared, we should have a clearer understanding how well the vaccine could work for myeloma patients.

Vaccine development is a complicated process, as is understanding what protections different vaccines offer different people. Vaccines, including the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, work by pretending to be a bacteria, virus or other infection and, as a result, trick the immune system into making an immune response to fight an infection. This helps the body build immune defences against the real virus and helps prevent or reduce the risk of infection.

From previous vaccine research, we know that some vaccines do not work as well in older people as they do in younger people. We also know that medications, immune function and pre-existing health conditions can affect how some vaccines work. For example, we know that live vaccines are not recommended for myeloma patients.

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is a brand-new type of vaccine – one which uses a technology called mRNA that hasn’t been used in other vaccines before. This means we don’t have another vaccine to compare it to or previous research to suggest how effective it is and which groups it’s safe for.

Whatever the final results of this trial, patients should be reassured that this vaccine is not the only vaccine that is being developed. There are several COVID-19 vaccines currently being tested. Some of these vaccines work in different ways so could be suitable for different patient groups. If early vaccines are not as effective or suitable for certain populations, one or more manufacturers are likely to continue with their trials to produce a vaccine. As with everything in COVID-19, this is new ground and it is difficult to predict when things will happen.

Myeloma UK will continue to advocate for myeloma patients to ensure they are considered a priority once an appropriate, safe, and effective vaccine is available. For now, even if the first vaccine isn’t suitable for myeloma patients, it will still help protect myeloma patients. This is because vaccinating the general population will reduce the overall level of COVID-19 in the community reducing everyone’s risk of COVID-19.