In what appears to be the second major breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19, United States biotech firm, Moderna, has announced that its experimental vaccine is almost 95 percent effective against the disease.
It also said it hopes to manufacture 20 million doses by December, and about 500 million to one billion doses by the end of 2021.
But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that vaccines alone cannot win the fight against the pandemic.
The President of Moderna, Dr. Stephen Hoge, who announced the development yesterday, said the vaccine shots provide strong protection against the disease, and that it appears to be 94.5 percent effective in preventing the virus.
Last week, Pfizer and its German counterpart, BioNTech, announced their COVID-19 vaccine, which they said was over 90 percent effective against the virus – news that first gave the world hope that the pandemic could be defeated sooner than expected.
Both frontrunners are based on new technology that uses synthetic versions of molecules called “messenger RNA” to hack into human cells, and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.
Hoge said: “This is a really important milestone, but having similar results from two different companies is what is most reassuring. That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives.
“It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It is going to require many vaccines to meet the global demand,” he added.
At least 54.5 million persons across the globe have been infected with the virus, killing 1.32 million. Recoveries have been put at 35.1 million persons so far, while about 17 million cases are still active.
Moderna said it plans to submit applications for emergency approval around the world within weeks, and that it expects to have approximately 20 million doses ready to ship in the US by the end of the year.
The company, which has received $2 billion from the US government under “Operation Warp Speed” added that it was on track to manufacture between 500 million to a billion doses globally in 2021.
Crucially, Moderna also announced that its vaccine can remain stable at standard refrigerator temperatures of two degrees Celsius to eight degrees Celsius for 30 days.
The company added that it could be kept in long-term storage at a standard freezer temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to six months.
Pfizer’s vaccine, on the other hand, needs to be stored in deep-freezer conditions of -70 degrees Celsius which could complicate supply chain logistics, particularly in less developed countries.
On the downside, Moderna’s vaccine has about three times more genetic material per dose than its Pfizer counterpart, Zoltan Kis, a research associate at Imperial College’s Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, said. This, according to him, would raise production costs and make it harder to scale-up.
Sharing her thoughts on the development, the Chief Executive Officer, Moderna, Stephane Bancel, said the interim analysis from the firm’s phase three study has provided the first clinical validation that the vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease.
US President-elect, Joe Biden, whose country has the highest cases of the virus – totaling 11 million infections and 263,000 deaths, said the news of a second vaccine was a further reason to feel hopeful.
Sharing a tweet on the development, he said: “We must also understand that the widespread distribution of the vaccines is months away. Until then, Americans need to continue to practice social-distancing and mask-wearing to get the virus under control,” he said.
President Donald Trump also weighed in on Twitter, to take credit. He said: “Please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China plague, all took place on my watch!”
The Moderna vaccine, which was co-developed by the US National Institutes of Health is given in two doses 28 days apart, and the preliminary results are based on the 95 of the 30,000 volunteers who fell ill with Covid-19.
Of the 95, 90 had been in the trial’s placebo group, and five in the group that received the drug, called mRNA-1273, translating to an efficacy rate of 94.5 percent.
There were 11 people who fell severely ill, all of whom were in the placebo group.
A small fraction of people experienced severe symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and joint pains, or redness at the injection site, but these side-effects were short-lasting, according to the study.
A member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board, Atul Gawande, who is a surgeon at a Harvard-affiliated hospital, said: “The light at the end of the tunnel just got even brighter.”
The promising results of both vaccines are seen as a validation for mRNA technology, which has never before been brought to regulatory approval.
It works by providing human cells with the genetic instructions to make a surface protein of the coronavirus, which trains the immune system to recognize the real virus.
Making a traditional vaccine is a long process that normally involves developing a weakened form of a pathogen.
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