With federal emergency use authorisation pending, the US could have two ready-to-use vaccines in the coming weeks.
United States health officials are set to review a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Massachussetts-based Moderna Inc next week.
The vaccine, developed in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, uses the same basic approach to inoculations as another vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech that has been at the head of cues for government authorisations across the world.
Clinical studies have shown Moderna’s vaccine to be about 94 percent effective.
Meanwhile, a review of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found no red flags, the agency said on Tuesday. Outside advisers for the agency are set to meet on Wednesday to discuss recommending the vaccine for emergency use. They will meet again on December 17 to discuss the same for Moderna.
If both the vaccines are authorised, the US could have two ready-to-use vaccines in the coming weeks.
Like Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna’s vaccine uses synthetic Ribonucleic acid (RNA) messengers that use genetic code from the coronavirus to prompt human cells to generate a so-called “spike” protein found on the outside of the virus.
The process sets off an immune response from the body, which eventually blocks the actual coronavirus from latching onto cells.
Moderna’s vaccine will require two injections, which need to be administered 28 days apart. Like its Pfizer-BioNTech counterpart, it also must remain in cold storage before use, a fact that poses logistical questions related to shipping and storage..
However, Moderna’s vaccine remains stable for six months at negative 20 degrees Celcius (negative four degrees Fahrenheit) and for 30 days in a standard medical refrigerator, according to the company.
Meanwhile, The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept at about -70C (-94F) to remain stable for 30 days and lasts for only five days in standard refrigeration.
That difference could make Moderna more suited for distribution in rural areas, with the company’s chief technical operations and quality officer saying in a November statement the difference “would enable simpler distribution and more flexibility to facilitate wider-scale vaccination in the United States and other parts of the world”.
The US has paid $1bn to support the development of the Moderna vaccine under the White House’s Operation Warp Speed and has spent another $1.5bn to secure 100 million doses of the vaccine.
The company has said it is prepared to deliver 20 million doses by the end of the year and plans to make available 100-125 million doses of the vaccine globally within the first four months of 2021.
While the US government has said the initial doses will be administered at no cost to the patient, Moderna has said people in other countries could pay as much as $37 per dose, depending on the size of the order.
Like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it remains unclear how long the Moderna vaccine will protect patients from COVID-19, but data has shown that those who have received the vaccine still had antibodies needed to fight the coronavirus three months later.
It also remains unclear if those who have received the vaccine can still spread the virus.