Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 94.5 percent effective, according to early data released by the company in a press release. That’s slightly higher than the efficacy reported by Pfizer and BioNTech, which announced a 90 percent efficacy for their vaccine candidate last week. Both companies said they planned to ask the Food and Drug Administration for authorization within a few weeks.
The data still hasn’t been published or reviewed by outside experts. These efficacy readings are higher than many experts were expecting, though — the FDA said that they were looking for vaccines that were at least 50 percent effective.
“Aspirationally, you would like to see 90, 95 percent, but I wasn’t expecting it. I thought we’d be good, but 94.5 percent is very impressive,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times.
Moderna was the first vaccine to enter clinical trials back in March. Only 63 days after the genetic sequence of the virus was posted online, the company injected the first volunteer with their candidate. They were able to move so quickly because they used a gene-based technology to make their vaccine candidate. Those types of vaccines are relatively simple to create once researchers know the viral gene they’re trying to target.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine was built using the same method. The two are made from tiny pieces of mRNA, which gives the human body instructions to produce copies of the coronavirus spike protein. Then, the immune system learns to defend against that protein. Gene-based vaccines are the long-promised future of vaccine development, but they’ve never been approved for people by the Food and Drug Administration. The apparent success of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are a promising sign for the method.
Moderna also announced today that their COVID-19 vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 30 days, which should help make storage and distribution easier. One worry with gene-based vaccine is that they have to be stored at ultracold temperatures. Previously, the company though their vaccine could only stay in a refrigerator for seven days. The longer window “would enable simpler distribution and more flexibility to facilitate wider-scale vaccination in the United States and other parts of the world,” Juan Andres, chief technical operations and quality officer at Moderna, said in a press release.
Moderna said it would have 20 million doses of its two-shot vaccine available by the end of 2020, and 500 million to 1 billion doses in 2021. The United States government has a deal with the company for 100 million doses of their vaccine through Operation Warp Speed, a federal program that aimed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development.
The US is seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases each day, with no end in sight. Even with this promising data, a vaccine won’t be available to most people for a few months at the very least. The more people who make it through the next few weeks of the pandemic, the more who will benefit from these vaccines.