The world has recorded another breakthrough in the quest for a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, as Moderna, a pharmaceutical firm based in the United States, yesterday revealed it has discovered a vaccine that is 94.5 per cent effective.
This new vaccine has proven to be more effective than the mRNA-based vaccine candidate, BNT162b2 unveiled by Pfizer Incorporated and its partner, BioNTech, last week. Early results from Moderna’s final stage of clinical trials show that only five out of 95 people who tested positive in the study had been given the vaccine, compared to 90 who had not.
There are a total of 30,000 people in the study, each receiving two doses of the jab or a placebo. According to the report, nobody in the vaccine group got seriously ill with COVID-19, compared to 11 in the placebo group, who were given a fake vaccine to compare against the real one.
The results suggest the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of people testing positive for coronavirus or getting sick with COVID-19.
The U.S. has already struck a $1.5 billion (£1.16 billion) deal for 100 million doses, while the European Union (EU) has an ‘unsigned’ deal for 160 million doses. Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Qatar and Israel have all also secured deals with Moderna, while the company continues ‘discussions with a number of countries’. It is expected to manufacture 20 million doses this year.
The jab is expected to cost $15.25 (£11.57) per dose, so $30.50 (£23.14) per person, which is slightly cheaper than the $19.50 (£14.79) per dose charged by Pfizer.
Moderna’s vaccine may be cheaper to distribute because it can be kept in a fridge for up to a month and transported in normal freezers at -20°C (-4°F). Nations will not need to buy expensive specialist freezers or the global supply of dry ice, which experts warned would be a drawback of Pfizer’s jab which must be kept at -70°C (-94°F).
However, while the U.S. will get the Moderna vaccine this year, it won’t be available in Europe until 2021. Britain, for instance, has not secured early access to the vaccine, meaning it will not get any doses of the jab this year. It may be able to buy some of the 500 million to one billion doses the firm plans to make in 2021, but no deal has yet been announced.
The British government said it is ‘in advanced discussions’ and could get access from spring 2021. Meanwhile, the European Union has ordered 300 million doses of BioNTech/Pfizer’s COVID- 19 vaccine following last week’s landmark announcement that it was effective in more than 90 per cent of patients.
The companies said deliveries of an initial order of 200 million vaccines will be subject to approval by European regulators and are expected to start by the end of this year. There is an option for a further 100 million doses.
The vaccine supply for the EU will be produced by BioNTech’s manufacturing sites in Germany and Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium and based on current projections, the companies expect to produce globally up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
Regulators sitting on the European Medicines Agency’s CHMP scientific committee have already begun a rolling review of the vaccine, which will accelerate the process as they will be able to study trial results as they are made available.
Vaccine doses for Europe will be produced in BioNTech’s German manufacturing sites, as well as in Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium.
If the BNT162b2 vaccine candidate receives approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), then doses will be ordered by the EU Member States who have elected to receive the vaccine as part of this agreement. It does have one practical drawback as it must be stored at around -70C until the day it is used and there are already concerns this may make large scale vaccination schemes difficult.
The AstraZeneca’s rival vaccine, which is based on a viral vector and is also nearing the end of clinical development, could be easier to work with.
The AZ vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature, although there have been concerns about its safety after a late stage clinical trial was put on hold at the beginning of last month before resuming.