WASHINGTON (CN) — Touted enthusiastically by the nation’s chief infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, the biotechnology giant Moderna announced on Monday that its vaccine for the novel coronavirus is 94.5% effective.
“These are obviously very exciting results. It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding,” Fauci told CNN early this morning.
Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the second company in as many weeks to announce major breakthroughs in vaccine development against the coronavirus. Last week, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced its vaccine was over 90% effective in treating the respiratory virus.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the company has “chased” the novel coronavirus since January.
“All along, we have known that each day matters. This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent Covid-19 disease, including severe disease,” he said in a statement Monday.
The third phase of Moderna’s trial on a coronavirus vaccine candidate involved some 30,000 participants, half of which took a placebo while the other half received the actual vaccine under development.
Of the 15,000 test subjects given a placebo, Moderna said Monday that only 90 of those individuals contracted Covid-19. Less than a dozen placebo-consumers contracted a more severe form of the virus.
Among the 15,000 participants who actually took the vaccine, just five became infected with Covid-19 and none became severely ill. Side effects from the clinical trial vaccine, for now, appear minimal.
“Preliminary analysis suggests a broadly consistent safety and efficacy profile across all evaluated subgroups,” Moderna said in its announcement.
To expedite distribution, the company plans on pursuing emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration after it completes its final safety evaluations.
It is widely expected that any vaccine emerging in the months ahead, be it from Moderna or another company, will see limited initial distribution. Fauci said Monday he expects the first round of vaccines to be administered in late December.
Those doses will first go to the most vulnerable populations including the elderly or severely immunocompromised. Health care workers, nurses and doctors, among others combatting the virus on the front lines, will also receive the vaccine first. For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to lead the coordination of the nationwide vaccine rollout.
Fauci said Monday he believes that by the end of April 2021, “everybody else” will start to get vaccinated. That process could take at least a few months to complete, he warned.
Moderna estimates at least 20 million doses will be available by the end of 2020. Pfizer projects a supply of 50 million doses available by the end of December as well.
Moderna’s vaccine, like Pfizer’s, uses something known as messenger ribonucleic acid or, mRNA to copy and synthesize proteins in the body that ultimately fend off the virus. Through mRNA, the vaccines direct a replication of spike proteins found atop the coronavirus cell. When this occurs, protective antibodies appear to be formed.
As part of administering both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, individuals must take two doses spread several weeks apart. Both vaccines also require special cold storage. But unlike Moderna’s vaccine, which can be stored at just -20 degrees Celsius, Pfizer’s candidate requires deep-freeze storage temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius.
This is a primary challenge to the supply chain, said Tinglong Dai, an assistant professor of operations and management and business analytics at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.
“Our cold- and ultra-cold-chain capacity might not be able to meet the transportation and storage requirements of the vaccines that will be chosen in the end,” Dai said in an email Monday. “Another challenge is we do not have adequate information systems for sharing vaccine availability information, placing requests for vaccines, and keeping track of who have been vaccinated and who have not.”