Boston Political Review co-Editor-in-Chief Quinn Chappelle on Moderna and Pfizer, and how their efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine are faring.
Moderna has now announced that their trials have indicated their vaccine is nearly 95% effective. Pfizer announced that early data showed their Covid-19 vaccine to be more than 90% effective, since updating that claim to 95% efficacy.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously stated that Covid-19 vaccines must be at least 50% effective before distribution, making these vaccines more than impressive. Dr Anthony Fauci stated in a recent interview: “I had been saying I would be satisfied with a 75 per cent effective vaccine. Aspirationally, you would like to see 90, 95 per cent, but I wasn’t expecting it. I thought we’d be good, but 94.5 per cent is very impressive”. Moderna and Pfizer are both planning to ask the FDA for emergency authorization.
Let’s see how these two match up.
Moderna is an American pharmaceutical company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is a new company that has yet to produce any drugs. This did not prevent President Trump from funding Moderna with nearly one billion dollars and promising $1.5 billion for purchase, manufacture, and distribution of a vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed. Previously Moderna had raised some concerns with its spokesperson, citing high prices for the vaccine – however, products funded by Operation Warp Speed will be provided for free to Americans.
Pfizer is an American-based multinational pharmaceutical company whose headquarters are located in New York City. Pfizer has partnered with BioNTech, a German biotech company, to develop their vaccine. Both Pfizer and BioNTech have produced several biomedical products. Pfizer did not take any initial funding from Operation Warp Speed, but has been promised $1.5 billion in return for 100 million immunizations.
Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are both mRNA vaccines, which are recent developments in the scientific community. mRNA vaccines the body’s cells a set of instructions to develop a protein engineered to fight a virus. Comparatively, traditional vaccines inject a weak or dead version of a virus the body’s immune system uses to teach itself how to defeat the strain. An mRNA vaccine has never been federally approved; however, most vaccines take about 5-10 years before becoming approved for distribution, so that’s not entirely damning. Pfizer and Moderna’s data regarding their mRNA vaccines shows the undeniable strength and effectiveness these types of vaccines can offer.
The FDA previously stated that Covid-19 vaccines must be at least 50% effective, meaning these vaccines pass the bar with flying colors. If Moderna and Pfizer are successful in getting emergency approval, these vaccines can begin to be distributed to those especially at risk: emergency medical staff, healthcare workers, and nursing home residents. However, even if these vulnerable populations can start getting vaccinated by the end of 2020, it is unlikely that groups who are not high-risk will be able to receive the vaccine before the spring of 2021. Coupled with rising Covid-19 cases, this means social distancing and mask-wearing needs to be continued until a majority of the population is sufficiently vaccinated.
Both of these vaccines also require two shots: a primary shot and a booster shot. This presents some disadvantages, as people will have to return after a few weeks of receiving their initial shot, which could lead to complications. Additionally, this means people will have to wait weeks to become fully immunised. Another frontrunner, AstraZeneca, also faces these difficulties as it also requires two doses. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine, projected to be released in early 2021, only requires a single dose.
The Modern and Pfizer vaccines have both surpassed the traditional timeframe in which vaccines are developed, down from the typical production time of 5-10 years to within a single year. This feat merits much celebration, but also a note of caution. These vaccines, while proven to be safe and successful, lack sufficient time in the oven necessary to document how long these immunisations will last and any long-term effects. Neither Pfizer nor Moderna have yet cited any harmful side effects, but without years of data it could be difficult to understand the long term impact of these vaccines. However, with international pressure to end the pandemic, a solution to the global crisis has been prioritised over everything else.
Pfizer updated their statement of vaccine efficacy to 95%, most likely a result of Moderna’s announcement – but this small difference in percentage is negligible when considering difficulties that could arise in preparing the vaccine for distribution. Moderna’s vaccine does not require the extreme cold temperatures for storage that Pfizer’s vaccine does. This would likely mean easier and faster distribution. Pfizer has begun planning with four states – Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee – in order to combat any logistical difficulties before officially distributing vaccines. Moderna has not announced any coordination efforts in planning the distribution of their vaccine.
While exciting, more vaccines will be needed in order to provide enough vaccinations globally; so don’t rule out the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson’s vaccines. Yet, as new developments surface regarding vaccines, it seems there is hope that this global pandemic and economic depression are inching closer to a visible end. Even though life most likely will not return fully to “normal” until late 2021 or early 2022, the promise of normalcy and the end of widespread death is reason enough for celebration.
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