A few days after Pfizer announced its anti-COVID vaccine with over 90% effectiveness, Moderna Inc announced its experimental drug with 94.5% prevention efficacy on COVID-19. The two drug makers have announced drugs that far exceed expectations.
The new vaccine has offered hope to the world ravaged by pandemic, especially Africa; where hot temperature would not be a barrier for its storage. The vaccine remains stable in conventional refrigerators for a month and an ordinary freezer for six months, under temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 48?F).
Unlike Moderna, Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at -70c before delivery, making it difficult to be administered in countries with hotter climes.
Both vaccines were developed with new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), and showed more than expected results in clinical trials.
“The results of this trial are truly striking,” says Anthony Fauci, the director of US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and the vaccines co-developer. He told reporters several months ago that he would be satisfied with a vaccine that was 70% or 75% effective, and one that prevented 95% of cases would be “aspirational”.
Moderna was one of the first developers to announce that it was working on a COVID-19 vaccine and to move testing to clinical trials in humans. It began a phase III trial that enrolled roughly 30,000 people in July, according to scientific magazine Nature.
At the news of its trial success, Moderna’s shares jumped 8% while the Dow climed 1.6%, the S&P 500 rose 1.17% and Nasdaq gained 0.8%. European markets rose too.
Pfizer and BioNTech shares plunged 4.3% and 16.4% respectively, following the news that Moderna doesn’t need colder temperatures to be preserved.
The tumultuous crisis of COVID-19 is taking a higher toll in the US and Europe, spiking the desperation of the Western countries to have as much of the vaccine as possible.
Moderna is part of the US government’s Operation Warp speed program. The company is expected to produce about 20 million doses for the United States this year. The company said it has already made millions of doses and would ship it if it gets FDA’s approval.
“Assuming we get an emergency use authorization, we’ll be ready to ship through Warp Speed almost in hours so it could start being distributed instantly,” Moderna president Stephen Hoge said.
In Europe, Britain has secured 5 million doses of Moderna according to a statement issued by health minister Matt Hancock on Monday.
“We have today secured an initial agreement for 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine,” he said.
While many countries are yet to indicate interest in the vaccine, economies around the world could heave a sigh of relief as the availability of the vaccine would mean that the most affected businesses, such as the aviation and hospitality would spring back to life.
But there are still unanswered questions and uncertainties about the vaccine. It is not clear how long the vaccine’s protective effects last; whether it can block people from transmitting the virus; or whether the vaccine works as well in higher-risk groups such as older adults. Moderna reported that, of the 95 cases, 15 were in people over 65, but it didn’t say which arm of the trial these participants were in.
However, the percentage of success in the trials offered hope beyond expectation, and started a vehicle of recovery for ravaged economies and the disrupted global supply chain.
China and Russia have already begun to vaccinate, and with the availability of Pfizer, Sputnik and Moderna vaccines, a large part of the world’s population could be covered by mid next year, if less affluent countries are given access to the vaccines.
While concentration lies on the US and Europe, where the pandemic is still much active, other countries with quite a record of high numbers will become a setback to the total elimination of the virus if they don’t have access to vaccines.
With over 55 million infected around the world, global access to vaccine is necessary to contain the spread of the virus.
Moderna has the capacity to produce more than one billion doses, which will serve the 330 million US population with leftovers of over 700 million. Pfizer vaccine’s storage limitation has made it exclusive to countries with temperate weather, which means, Africa is excluded. So far, a combination of Moderna, Russia’s Sputnik which is said to be also over 90% effective offers hope to disadvantaged countries.
While there is hope that many vaccines under trial will be approved in the near future, a global synergy is required for strategic distribution of the available vaccines, especially for dependent countries with enormous populations like Nigeria.