Early COVID-19 vaccine test shows promise, sending restaurant stocks soaring

The drug company Pfizer says its vaccine is 90% effective in a large trial of patients, potentially signaling the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The drug company Pfizer said that early tests of its coronavirus vaccine has been 90% effective in tens of thousands of patients, a surprisingly strong result that led its CEO to declare Monday to be “a great day for science and humanity.”

The news was greeted with relief among Americans who sense the beginning of the end to a nine-month pandemic that has ripped through the economy, killing more than 230,000 Americans and leaving thousands of restaurant operators out of business.

The news also sent stocks soaring, particularly in industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic. It came as the virus is surging and as the U.S. has set records for new cases for several straight days. 

The S&P 500 index was up by more than 3% in morning trading Monday, led by restaurants and other sectors that struggled during the pandemic. 

Casual dining chains in particular surged in early trading Monday, including Darden (up 14%), Dine Brands (19%), Brinker International (11%), Texas Roadhouse (15%), Ruth’s Chris Hospitality Group (26%), Bloomin' Brands (17%), Cracker Barrel (22%), BJ's Restaurants (28%) Cheesecake Factory (23%) and Denny’s (29%).

Dave & Buster's, the eatertainment concept, is up 33%.

Fast-food stocks were up less, in part because much of their sales have already recovered thanks to the presence of drive-thrus and a heavy takeout business.  And pizza stocks, including Domino's and Papa John's, were down more than 5%. 

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, said in a statement. “The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.”

The clinical trial for Pfizer’s vaccine began July 27 and has enrolled 43,538 participants, 38,955 of whom have received a second dose. Pfizer said an analysis of 94 cases split between people who’ve been vaccinated and those who received a placebo indicate an efficacy rate above 90% after patients received their second dose.

To be sure, it remains early. Pfizer still has to report safety data among patients who’ve been vaccinated, a crucial milestone that could make or break the vaccine. Pfizer expects to report that data next week.

And, according to Stat News, there is no information on whether the vaccine prevents the virus’s spread or whether it prevents the type of severe cases that lead to hospitalizations. Nor is it certain how long the vaccine keeps people from getting the virus.

Still, the news suggests a vaccine could be made available by the end of the year and could be more widely distributed next year—a remarkably fast result for a virus that only emerged late last year and began spreading around the world in February and March.

“With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” Bourla said.

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