Pfizer’s blockbuster vaccine report flips the markets on their head—pandemic stocks sink, nearly everything else soars

European markets and U.S. futures soared Monday on the announcement by Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, that their candidate COVID-19 vaccine has proved much more effective than they hoped.

The pharma firms revealed preliminary results from the third and final phase of the vaccine’s trials, which are still ongoing, showing it prevented more than 90% of infections in participants. That’s way above the 60-70% range Pfizer and BioNTech expected to see.

The effect on the markets was giddying. Many of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic—airlines, energy and financials, to name a few—rocketed higher. Crude prices took off, too. The stay-at-home stocks, meanwhile, cratered, as did gold.

In Europe, currently in the throes of a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the Stoxx 600 shot up by 5%, and France’s CAC 40 by more than 7%. Germany’s DAX rose around 6%, and London’s FTSE 100 by more than 5%. U.S. futures reached similar heights, with Dow futures up more than 5% and S&P 500 futures up over 4%.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s share prices were up more than 6% and 18% respectively, and rival Moderna—whose own candidate vaccine uses similar technology—also rose more than 5%. Shares in AstraZeneca, which is also developing a candidate vaccine, fell 2%.

Airlines’ share prices took off—Easyjet was up as much as 26%, Lufthansa by 20%, and Ryanair by 15%. British Airways owner IAG was up an astonishing 30%. Faced with the prospect of transport recovering from the pandemic, Brent Crude was up 8% and WTI nearly 9%. Auto stocks, too, were cruising—Volkswagen was up 6%, Daimler climbed almost 6%, and General Motors was up 3.5%. Cruise ship operator, Carnival, jumped nearly 30% at one point.

Not all market participants were having a great day, though.

In premarket trading, Zoom, the videoconferencing company whose service became a household name during the pandemic, saw its shares fall as much as 20%, with Peloton off 14%. Amazon was down over 3%, as was Shopify.

The fine print

Pfizer and BioNTech’s preliminary results come with some big warnings that should temper everyone’s excitement. The companies still don’t know if their two-dose vaccine prevents the kind of severe cases that land COVID-19 carriers in hospital, nor do they know if the vaccine prevents people from carrying the virus asymptomatically.

What’s more, the vaccine causes side effects—aches and fevers—that may be worse than those that are sometimes suffered by people taking Pfizer’s pneumonia or flu vaccines, Pfizer vaccine research chief William Gruber told STAT.

However, Gruber characterized the preliminary results as “extraordinary.”

“This really bodes well for us being able to get a handle on the epidemic and get us out of this situation,” he told the publication.

If all goes well in the rest of the trial, and with regulators, Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine could be in circulation before the end of the year, though only in the tens of millions of doses, likely limiting distribution to health care workers and others who need it most critically.

“This news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for COVID-19 vaccines in general,” said Peter Horby, an infectious diseases professor at the University of Oxford, in a statement. 

“Of course we need to see more detail and await the final results, and there is a long long way to go before vaccines will start to make a real difference, but this feels to me like a watershed moment.”

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