One of the biggest challenges in delivering a promising coronavirus vaccine based on unparalleled technology to millions of people around the world just got easier.
When Pfizer Inc. announced effective preliminary results for its vaccine candidate last week, the downside was that it had to be stored in extremely cold temperatures, creating significant logistical problems. But Moderna Inc. on Monday outperformed its rival by offering a vaccine based on the same technology that appears to be equally effective but can also be stored at normal refrigerated temperatures for up to a month.
The difference is significant. Delivering regular vaccines to populations in the remotest regions from India to Africa is difficult enough only in terms of supply and transportation. The temperature factor poses a more daunting hurdle and requires countries to build storage and transportation networks that can maintain temperatures far colder than those required for frozen meat. The massive investment and coordination required increased the likelihood that only rich nations would be guaranteed access.
“The Moderna vaccine is a much more viable option than the Pfizer vaccine for low- and middle-income countries,” said Rachel Silverman, a Washington-based policy officer at the Center for Global Development. “The need for cold rooms is less extreme.”
In addition to being stable in the refrigerator for 30 days, Moderna’s vaccine can also be stored in regular freezers for long-term use. Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees and can only be refrigerated for up to five days – at least until researchers can hit Moderna’s breakthrough.
“The Moderna vaccine can be placed on existing vaccine distribution networks,” said Ayfer Ali, assistant professor and drug research specialist at Warwick Business School in the UK. “Even in remote and underdeveloped areas, refrigerators are available or can be delivered cheaply.” . “
Although Moderna has only signed contracts for its vaccine with a handful of developed countries, it has received funding from the nonprofit Coalition for Epidemic Prepare Innovation and could therefore help open access in low- to middle-income countries, Silverman said.
The Boston-based biotech company’s vaccine uses the same new and experimental messenger RNA mechanism as Pfizer’s. The appearance of two promising candidates is helping to allay concerns that a single vaccine is nowhere near enough to meet global demand.
“We have to use all of the capacity we have and all of the vaccines that are effective when they go online,” Ali said.
Pfizer could also make its vaccine more viable by reformulating it – possibly in a freeze-dried form – to avoid the refrigeration problem, said Gillies O’Bryan-Tear, chair of policy and communications for the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine in the UK.
Hundreds of Covid-19 vaccines are now in the pipeline, and it’s possible another, lower-cost candidate may emerge that uses proven technology and is easier to manufacture and ship, according to experts.
“I think it will become clear over the next few months that there are more vaccines in the pipeline that are in Phase III,” said Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health. “There will be decisions about the cost of waiting versus acting. Some might choose to wait because of broader features and the need for an ultra-cold chain. I think that will be a big calculation.”
Other vaccine options can be essential as not many existing drug manufacturers have manufacturing facilities for messenger RNA technology.
Adar Poonawalla, Chairman of the Board of the Serum Institute of India Ltd. – the world‘s largest vaccine maker by volume – said it hadn’t had any plans “to experiment with messenger RNA candidates” for at least 2.5 years when the company opened a new facility to complete the building.
“This type of innovation is great over the long term,” Poonawalla said in an interview. However, it remains a question of how many of them will be “usable” in a practical sense, he said.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)