The infectologist Fernando Polack with Infobae: “Today it is no longer impossible to prevent or stop the coronavirus”

Fernando Polack

A Fernando Polack He is very happy and relieved. The time has passed when he was in charge of the Argentine chapter of the study every day in the Military Hospital to test the first successful vaccine against the coronavirus. The start of immunization in Great Britain with the Pfizer vaccine marks the end of a stage that began a few months ago, in the midst of the pandemic. At this time the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of the United States defines if it approves the use of the vaccine in that country. The vaccine is under evaluation in Argentina by the National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT).

Polack explains that he had to fulfill the dream of every scientific researcher. He spearheaded two studies that appear so far as the only way to mitigate and combat the coronavirus. And that makes him proud and brings him another smile. The results of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine study were published yesterday in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine: the name of the Argentine doctor is leading the publication. Polack was not alone in convincing Pfizer to do the study in Argentina. Alejandra Gurtman, another from Buenos Aires with whom Polack has a long professional relationship in respiratory disease research, is vice president of the company and supported the idea that the vaccine be tested in the country. Gurtman is an experienced Argentine infectologist, co-author of the publication on vaccine effectiveness, and who heads many of Pfizer’s studies on respiratory diseases.

Polack directs the study in Buenos Aires in which more than 5700 people participated. Half received placebo and the other half the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. ANDn total, some 43,000 people in the United States, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina took part in the study. The Argentine was the place where there were more patients. Polack is still running it because while the vaccine / placebo stage is over, they will continue to monitor patients for two years.

The study carried out at the Military Hospital of Palermo – where Polack and his team have already done studies for vaccines for other diseases – began last August 6 and enrolled volunteers in a program “of unprecedented proportions that required extreme professionalism in a job that aroused surprise in the world ”. The vaccines arrived by plane from the United States with their cold chain controlled since they must be stored in a temperature of 80 degrees below zero, a condition that was maintained in the Military Hospital.

The patients had an injection in the arm. Each received two doses, the first separated from the second by 21 days. More than 35,000 volunteers were enrolled in Argentina and the 5762 who finally participated in the study were randomly chosen.

To carry out the study they worked -according to Polack- more than 1000 people, among whom there were about 500 doctors, 50 nurses, 100 medical students, pharmacists, university students of various specialties and administrative staff. The first stage of the study lasted four weeks and overlapped with the second, as the second dose began to be given at week four.

Polack was not alone in directing the study. The doctors who also led the plasma tests worked with him long before the start of the vaccine testing: Gonzalo perez marc (“The best clinical essayist I ever saw”) and Romina Libster (“An unusual combination of talent and effort”). It was them, along with “the incredible Virgina Braem Y Alejandra Bianchi Y Diego Wappner, a clinician who reassures even the most anxious ”–as described by Polack- who managed to oil the enormous logistics necessary for the operation of the study. The entire procedure was audited by ANMAT.

Polack in a red shirt with Pérez Marc and Libster toasting the results of the study.

Polack in a red shirt with Pérez Marc and Libster toasting the results of the study.

The pediatrician, who also conducted an investigation on the effectiveness of plasma convalescent to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus spoke yesterday with Infobae.

How would you characterize the Pfizer vaccine study that was done in Buenos Aires?

-In principle, the group of volunteers that participated in Buenos Aires in the Military Hospital was the largest in the world. And the study was developed with extraordinary levels of professionalism, efficiency and commitment. This was achieved thanks to the dedication of all the professionals who worked on this. The will of the people, from the doctors to the volunteers, was extraordinary. Our site played a key role in the results of the study globally, as the team vaccinated more than 5,700 people in the middle of the pandemic, about 15% of the world total.

-Did you, your family, friends or any collaborator participated in the study?

-Unfortunately not. It is absolutely forbidden for people related to those who do the studies to participate in the tests. If possible, we would have enlisted delighted.

Were there any shocks during the study?

-No, fortunately none. The study was really very intense and very peaceful.

Were they audited?

-We have had the professional look of ANMAT that worked very intensely, rigorously and with great responsibility to take care of the Argentines who participated in the study.

What is your reading on the effectiveness of the vaccine?

-What was announced about the efficacy of the vaccine being 95% is extraordinary. Respiratory vaccines are typically 40 percent effective. That is typically a good result, a desirable result. And, as a rule, vaccines only protect against the most serious disease and not against mild manifestations of infections. In other words, the flu vaccine, for example, is not intended to prevent any flu but specifically severe flu. That this coranavirus vaccine has 95% overall protection against all forms of Covid-19 is truly remarkable.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in front of displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo/File Photo

How does this follow?

-The vaccine has already been approved in Great Britain and is being evaluated in the US Once authorized for emergency administration, it should move forward to start being used.

– And when did you arrive in Argentina?

– I know – like everyone – that there are conversations, according to what the authorities made public, between the national government and Pfizer. Hopefully the vaccine reaches Argentina as soon as possible. It is what we wish for our relatives, friends and compatriots: effective vaccines.

– ¿How should the incoming doses be administered?

– As there will not initially be vaccines for the entire population, risk groups will be prioritized as recommended, for example, by the World Health Organization. The personnel working in health is the most exposed and it is estimated that this group is about 500,000 people in the country. Obviously another priority group for vaccines is the elderly.

-What opinion do you have about the other vaccines that are in preparation?

– We in the team have chosen to remain silent for some time until we have scientific data, in order to be able to express our opinion with substance. Don’t do futurology. And we apply that same principle to weigh in on other strategies, no matter what. Obviously, as Pfizer today is the first vaccine with concrete final results of efficacy, it is too early to comment on the rest. Hopefully all the vaccines work and as soon as possible.

You seem happy, is it just because the vaccine that was tested in Argentina began to be applied?

– Not just for that. It is that for the first time the black clouds of the pandemic are beginning to open. We have been working on respiratory vaccines for more than 20 years. And what happened in the study reaffirms that serious and planned work in the end has its reward. Even combining this strategy with plasma donations (following the line of work that we reported a few weeks ago, they are available on the web and will be seen in the scientific literature in the near future) could greatly reduce the burden of serious illness from Covid -19.

What is the reward for all this?

– To think that we are closing the door at the end of the coronavirus pandemic. We now know that there are solutions. Let’s imagine what would have happened if the vaccines had failed … Sometimes, to better understand what this implies, we talk in the group that, once the most vulnerable are protected, many older people will share future holidays with their families, many people will see their friends, children and grandchildren again, and the possibilities of working more normally will be re-established. Until today, directly preventing or curbing the coronavirus before it becomes severe was impossible. Today it is not anymore.


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“The use of plasma transforms COVID-19 into a bad cold,” said Fernando Polack when presenting results of his scientific study

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