“Based on these interim safety and efficacy data, Moderna intends to submit for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the coming weeks and anticipates having the EUA informed by the final safety and efficacy data (with a median duration of at least 2 months),” the release continued. “Moderna also plans to submit applications for authorizations to global regulatory agencies.”
“By the end of 2020, the Company expects to have approximately 20 million doses of mRNA-1273 ready to ship in the U.S.,” the statement read. “The Company remains on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.”
Other vaccines are in trials
There are several other vaccines in trials, including two from other major pharmaceutical companies that people are watching closely. Janssen Pharmaceutical Company, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson, just launched a new two-dose trial after doing a one-dose trial. And a vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford is also in trials, with the company saying it could be available by January.
Meanwhile, other countries are already rolling out vaccines. NPR and the New York Times reported that in China, hundreds of thousands of people have been inoculated with multiple vaccines that haven’t been clinically proven in testing. While Chinese vaccines are still in clinical trials, they have been providing unproven ones to vulnerable workers like front-line medical personnel, urban service providers, and workers traveling abroad.
But at least one scientist told NPR that China’s emergency-use vaccine practices aren’t warranted because the country isn’t in an emergency; as explored in the medical journal the Lancet, the country has a fraction of the COVID-19 cases and deaths of other nations with smaller populations. Experts credited that to a number of factors, including a massive investment in hospital infrastructures and strict, extensive lockdowns that in some cases included public shaming by PA systems on drones, with official messaging amplified by state-run media.
In addition, the population’s experience with and understanding of respiratory diseases and a communal prioritization of the greater good over hyper-individualism may have contributed. Plus, as the director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic put it, “China does not have the kind of raucous anti-vaccine, anti-science movement that is trying to derail the fight against COVID-19 in the USA.”
There probably won’t be a single vaccine, but several
While pharmaceutical companies are pushing ahead with their trials towards those FDA EUAs, experts say this isn’t really a race, it’s a collective effort. Despite the fact that vaccine news will likely continue to impact Big Pharma stock prices, seemingly creating financial winners and losers, the reality is that the world benefits from as many effective vaccines being available as possible.
That’s in part because each vaccine could be more or less effective in scenarios of relatively different risks. For example, as Discover Magazine explored, the vaccine for the seasonal flu has a special edition for people over 65. Age is a key factor in COVID-19 vulnerability. On top of that, older immune systems can struggle more to develop strong immune responses to vaccines. So, one hypothetical situation could be an early vaccine doesn’t prove as effective for the elderly, and more are needed to better serve that community.
Additionally, there is more to mass immunization than finding a vaccine that works. That vaccine then needs to be distributed at a wide scale. Some vaccines may need deep-freezer technology to be stored and transported. Vox explained on November 16 how a country like the U.S. does have an existing vaccine distribution infrastructure, but the scale of COVID-19 has created the need for an expensive expansion of capacity of “cold chains” that allow for the frosty temperatures necessary to keep a vaccine from spoiling. NBC News reported last week, for example, that Pfizer has invested over $2 billion in a direct distribution network for its vaccine.
Bloomberg reported last week that China is building out an infrastructure of deep-freeze transportation technology that a vaccine like Pfizer’s needs, finding demonstrative challenges along the way. The hurdles more technologically advanced nations face raise concerns that many other countries will have to build these networks from scratch — meaning poorer parts of the world could have to wait for a more conventional vaccine that doesn’t require investing in deep-freezing tech.
As Wayne Koff, president and CEO of the nonprofit Human Vaccines Project, told Ars Technica, “All that points to the need for a number of vaccines.”
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