Scientists react to news of Moderna’s 94% effective Covid vaccine

Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the Moderna news “is really quite impressive” and that along with the recent Pfizer vaccine findings, “is something that foretells an impact on this outbreak”.

Scientists and drugmakers have been reacting to the announcement that US firm Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective.

Dr Stephen Hoge, head of the Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, said he went as far as grinning “from ear to ear” after initial data suggested the company’s vaccine can indeed protect people against Covid.

“When we got the news from the data and safety monitoring board, I’ll admit I broke character and grinned from ear to ear for a minute,” he told BBC News.

Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, said it was a “pivotal moment in the development of our Covid-19 vaccine candidate”, before praising staff for their “hard work and sacrifices”.

Founded in 2010, Moderna employs more than 1,000 people.

He told NBC’s Today programme: “So now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective, so I think this is a really strong step forwards to where we want to be about getting control with this outbreak.”

Asked when the public can expect to be vaccinated, Dr Fauci predicted that there will be doses available by the end of December for people at high risk of catching the virus.

Meanwhile in the UK, Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), hailed the Moderna results as “terrifically encouraging”. Dr Hatchett highlighted that information suggested the vaccine protected against more severe disease and reported side-effects appeared to be manageable.

He said: “The fact that the vaccine shows stability when stored in a normal refrigerator for up to 30 days is also terrific news and will allow the vaccine to be distributed broadly. All in all this is another great day in the struggle against Covid-19. We have a long way to go, of course, but we are accumulating the tools we will need to end the pandemic.”

Prof Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said results from the Moderna and Pfizer trials were “very reassuring”.

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She added: “Although the numbers are small, the Moderna trial also gives an indication that vaccination is effective in older and Bame individuals and prevents severe disease, all of which are key to allowing the world to start opening up again.

“The absolute prerequisite for a Covid-19 vaccine is that is stops people becoming ill enough to require hospital treatment and stops people dying. The preliminary data reported here suggest that this vaccine – and by extension, the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine – will achieve this goal.”

Prof Riley said  it was unknown whether any vaccines undergoing trials prevented disease transmission or helped to reduce transmission to make a meaningful difference to Covid-19’s spread within communities.

However, she said the Moderna results were “excellent news”, adding: “Having more than one source of an effective vaccine will increase the global supply and, with luck, help us all to get back to something like normal sometime in 2021.”

Dr Zoltan Kis, research associate at the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, Imperial College London, said if Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines are approved it would be a “huge validation” of the technology, with the potential for other candidates to “be produced substantially faster in the future to combat virtually any infectious disease”.

He said the Moderna vaccine’s higher mRNA amount per dose (100 micrograms) compared with Pfizer’s (30 micrograms) meant the latter could be produced in higher numbers and at lower cost.

But he added: “On the other hand, Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate is stable at -20C, compared to the -70C of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine candidate. Therefore, once approved by the regulatory authorities, Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine can be distributed substantially easier and at lower costs compared to the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.”

Dr Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at Wellcome, said: “We cannot become complacent. If we are to have enough doses for the entire world and vaccines that work across different groups and settings, we must continue developing and investing in a wide range of candidates.

“Covid-19 vaccines will face the largest and fastest vaccine manufacturing scale-up and rollout in history but the light at the end of the tunnel is looking brighter.”

Dr Weller added that while the progress on various potential coronavirus vaccines was “incredibly promising”, urgent questions over the duration of their effect and how they worked in different populations “remain to be answered”.

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