Second vaccine shows promise

In what is expected to be the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history, Moderna said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine is proving highly effective in a major trial.

The company said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from Moderna’s ongoing study. The Associated Press reported on the study Monday. 

A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the United States, the AP reported. 

These announcements come as the globe races for a vaccine to combat a virus that is now killing more than 8,000 people a day worldwide.

As of Monday, there are over 11 million positive cases and almost 250,000 deaths in the U.S. and more than 54 million positive cases and 1 million deaths worldwide, according to John Hopkins. 

If the FDA allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidate, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year. Both vaccines require people to get two shots, several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December, according to AP.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the hope is that enough doses are available by the end of January to vaccinate adults over 65, who are at the highest risk from the coronavirus, and health care workers. Dr. Anthony Fauci said it may take until spring or summer for anyone who is not high risk and wants a shot to get one. 

Here is how it works, according to AP: First the shots have to arrive where they’re needed, and Pfizer’s must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine also starts off frozen, but the company said Monday it can be thawed and kept in a regular refrigerator for 30 days, easing that concern. 

Another important message per the AP: Additional vaccines that work in different ways are still in testing — and despite the promising news about Moderna’s and Pfizer’s shots, more volunteers are needed for those studies.

Both Moderna’s shots and the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate are so-called mRNA vaccines, a brand-new technology. RNA vaccines are faster and cheaper to produce than traditional vaccines, and a RNA based vaccine is also safer for the patient, as they are not produced using infectious elements, as stated in the University of Cambridge RNA vaccine briefing and introduction.

“Unlike a normal vaccine, RNA vaccines work by introducing an mRNA sequence (the molecule which tells cells what to build) which is coded for a disease specific antigen, once produced within the body, the antigen is recognised by the immune system, preparing it to fight the real thing,” the briefing stated.

This means they aren’t made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus, AP reports.

This article has been updated as of Nov. 18, 2020 12:06 p.m.

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