Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID Vaccines

By: Charlotte Foulger — Correspondent

American pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and Cambridge, MA-based company Moderna recently filed for emergency distribution of their Covid 19 vaccines and are awaiting FDA approval. The FDA is meeting today to vote on approval of Pfizer’s vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved in the UK and is being administered.

Pfizer’s vaccine was recently announced to be 95% effective and Moderna’s running a close second with 94.5% effectiveness. The FDA requires a minimum percentage of 50%, and both companies well exceeded that. 

“Both our (Pfizer’s) vaccine and Moderna’s vaccine have both seen ninety-five percent efficacy rates, that was really much, much higher than was expected,” said a medical director on the Pfizer oncology team Erin Goldman. 

Goldman says that the vaccines use mRNA instead of DNA like other vaccines in the past and that since RNA can be made very quickly, these vaccines were the first to be made. “…versus relying on circulating virus and having to make more of that circulating virus and kill it, which is how vaccines are usually made.”

 “You can change the RNA sequence so that you can change the vaccine to make it more effective over time,” Goldman added. 

Goldman also says she is optimistic and states that she thinks people were pleasantly surprised by the high effectiveness of the vaccines. “I mean, there were thirty-four thousand people in our study, and there were more than thirty thousand people in the Moderna study,” said Goldman.  “These are tremendously large studies — this is not just a fluke,” she added.

Goldman says that the company is hoping that kids ages 12 and up can be approved for the vaccine. “…once we had a good sense of the safety because safety is really the most important thing…once we had had at least three months of data on at least half of those thirty-three thousand, that’s when we opened up the study to ages twelve and up,” said Goldman. She says that it is not likely to be approved for the younger children due to lack of testing.

One challenge with the rollout of Pfizer’s vaccine to the general public is that it needs to be kept at extremely cold temperatures, in a minus-80 degrees Fahrenheit freezer. “This is a brand new technology, and it’s using RNA, and RNA is very unstable,” Goldman said. She says that keeping it extremely cold will preserve the RNA. 

“The company is working on ways to make it more stable, but that is something that is happening now and will happen over time,” she said. “Actually, a lot of big hospital systems and research facilities, as well as big-box pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, already have those kinds of freezers available,” but some that are smaller don’t. She says they’ve created a transporting device. “…it almost looks like a pizza box, or like a suitcase that stays at minus seventy, and in fact, can be supplemented with dry ice for up to three weeks,” said Goldman.

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