On Monday, Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech said that their experimental Covid vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in a study of nearly 44,000 people. (By comparison, studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu by between 40 percent and 60 percent among the overall population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
The Pfizer results haven’t been assessed by regulators. Nevertheless, the disclosure sent airline and oil stocks soaring on Monday, in anticipation that a vaccine could lead to a drop in infections and travel approaching normalcy. Shares of Live Nation Entertainment, the concert promoter that owns Ticketmaster, which handles sales of several Broadway shows, rose as much as 30 percent during the day. It ultimately closed up 15 percent Monday as the stock market euphoria cooled a bit, and was up another 1 percent Tuesday.
“It’s a preliminary result but it’s very exciting,” said Jessica Justman, an associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It suggests that we will have a proof of concept that a vaccine for Covid — and this kind of RNA vaccine — is doable.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses the genetic molecule RNA to cause cells to make a protein that leads our immune systems to make antibodies that attack Covid. Another company, Moderna, is in trials with its own RNA vaccine. (Dr. Justman, a longtime AIDS researcher who’s part of a team helping to conduct an AstraZeneca Covid vaccine trial, is my stepsister.)
If the Food and Drug Administration grants the companies so-called emergency-use authorization, Pfizer hopes to make available 50 million doses of the vaccine this year and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. To be effective, one needs two doses, delivered a month apart. Also Monday, the FDA granted emergency-use authorization to an antibody therapy from Eli Lilly & Co. to treat mild-to-moderate cases of Covid.
The Broadway League has said that the Broadway performances won’t resume until June 2021 at the earliest. Dr. Justman said that a fall 2021 reopening is more realistic. “It will take a long time for all the people who need to be vaccinated to get vaccinated,” she said.
The Pfizer development raises many questions. How long will the vaccine provide protection? How would a national rollout work? (The vaccine needs to be stored at temperatures of about negative 100 degrees Fahrenheit.) Although there’ve been no serious safety concerns noted to-date, will hundreds of millions of people be comfortable taking a new vaccine before its trial completes a longer period of observation for possible delayed side effects?
As doctors, reporters and even some producers noted, the initial results were in a press release, not a peer-reviewed medical journal study.
Still, after months of nothing but dismal news in the industry, the potential for an effective vaccine should give theatergoers and theater creators more confidence about the future.
“It was a starting gun in the race for the industry to reopen,” producer Ken Davenport said about the Pfizer announcement, which was made two days after Joe Biden was declared the winner in the U.S. presidential election. “We’ve had a very good few days in the world, haven’t we?”
Davenport said his Theatermakers Summit virtual conference, which is scheduled to start on Saturday, may be more upbeat than it would’ve been otherwise. “There is hope,” he said.