Brighter days could be ahead after what appears to be good early news on a coronavirus vaccine which Kiwis will be in line for.
Drug firm Pfizer, and its German partner BioNTech, are expected to apply this month for emergency-use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, after reporting that its vaccine might be 90 per cent effective, based on early and incomplete test results.
The approval application would involve two months of safety data.
There are some important caveats before anyone gets too excited.
The data is preliminary and will need to be scrutinised further. There is no way of knowing how long immunity would last. Study participants received a coronavirus test only if they developed symptoms. We don't know whether people of all ages will have similar results.
NBC News reported scientists anticipate the shots would cause "enervating flu-like" side effects — including sore arms, muscle aches and fever — which could last days.
Early trials of several Covid-19 vaccines suggest that consumers will need to be prepared for side effects that, while technically mild, could disrupt daily life, data shows. https://t.co/RSihMBfYaV— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 12, 2020
Still, US infectious-disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said the results are "just extraordinary". He added: "Not very many people expected it would be as high as that."
CNN medical analyst Dr Jonathan Reiner called it "a light at the end of the tunnel that's not an oncoming train".
It is among several vaccines in development and, importantly from New Zealand's point of view, one we have a pre-purchase agreement for. We will be receiving at least 1.5 million doses, enough to immunise 750,000 people.
The vaccine should be rolled out here next year - provided it meets our local regulations and has successfully passed the trial process.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) hopes to start vaccinating high-risk groups by March.
It could also be a boost for US President-elect Joe Biden who is unable to take official control of pandemic plans until his inauguration in mid-January.
Biden this week set up a coronavirus advisory board of medical experts to coordinate efforts once he takes the reins. The short-term outlook is not good and the President-elect urged Americans to embrace mask-wearing now.
The US, which has a fifth of the world's coronavirus cases, has passed 10 million confirmed infections and is nearing 240,000 deaths. It is also unknown whether any additional pandemic financial relief will be passed in the lame duck session of Congress, with millions of people out of work.
An interim analysis of the vaccine, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study involving nearly 44,000 people in six countries.
Distribution of the Pfizer vaccine and some others will require cold storage and two shots, which means many millions of doses. It will be a complex process.
Pfizer has a cold storage facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the US, the vaccines will be packed below dry ice inside thermal containers, flown to major distribution hubs with a GPS-tracked thermal sensor, and then delivered by ground transport to clinics.
Here, vulnerable people and frontline Covid-19 workers would likely be the first to receive the vaccine.
"The Pfizer vaccine ... is part of a suite of vaccines we will be looking at. This is the first major step but there will be others," Research Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said.
The coming arrival of a promisingly effective vaccine should be a spur for the Government to work towards a more flexible strategy towards our borders.
We are still a long way from dramatic changes but a vaccine should be an important tool to allow some international travel, in combination with other measures.
It's at least a torchlight at the end of the tunnel.