Editorial

Shot in the arm: on potential vaccine candidates

Close on the heels of the multinational, Pfizer, announcing promising results from its ongoing phase-3 trial of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna, the U.S.-based biotechnology firm, has indicated similar news from human trials (again phase 3) of its m-RNA vaccine. An analysis of 95 of the nearly 30,000 volunteers — they are exclusively from the United States — who tested positive, revealed that 90 had only got a placebo and five the double-vaccine shots. This led to the vaccine being declared as ‘94.5% effective’ and well past the U.S. FDA’s requirement that a potential vaccine must be at least 50% effective. Encouragingly, the company also said that 11 volunteers manifested moderate to severe disease and all of them were those who did not get the real vaccine. This is a sign that the vaccine is successful in its primary job of protection though its efficacy at curbing disease transmission is still to be evaluated. The results were announced as a company news release and not in a scientific journal, implying that a review by independent experts is pending.

Moderna’s results, like Pfizer’s, are a boost for a new approach to vaccine design. The m-RNA class of vaccines are a synthetic construction of a piece of genetic machinery that viruses need to replicate. There are twin advantages. No physical part of a virus is introduced, reducing the odds of adverse reactions, and the number of doses can be quickly scaled up as they do not need mammalian cells. The cons are that such vaccines have never been commercially produced and require sub-zero refrigeration facilities, which is a rarity in most of the world. In the case of Moderna, there is more optimism as the company claimed that the vaccine was able to survive for 30 days — and not the supposed seven — in a refrigerator and could last 12 hours at room temperature. Its vaccine is primarily for the U.S. However, this vaccine, unlike Pfizer’s, was developed with support from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and other global alliances. Under this arrangement, member-countries, and this includes India, are in line to get a minimum number of doses, however few, to cover a fraction of their population on priority basis. Moderna says it can ready 20 million doses by the year end. By late next year, this can be ramped up to the billions but by then it is expected that several more vaccines that are in large trials, including those in India, will be available. India does not stand to directly and immediately gain significantly from Moderna. However, every vaccine candidate that passes a significant hoop is a win for the world as it opens the way to new practices and ways of applying science that would have been otherwise implausible in the pre-pandemic world.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 4:03:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/shot-in-the-arm/article33119968.ece

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