Photo: Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
As the world awaits the development and imminent distribution of the first of the COVID-19 vaccine, two big pharmaceutical companies race toward the finish line: Pfizer and Moderna.
Today, Pfizer announced it would apply for emergency use, a practice used during pandemics to make the vaccine available before its formal approval.
In an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered," Mary Kelly interviewed Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Chief Scientific Advisor for the White House's development program Operation Warp Speed. He stated that both Pfizer and Moderna use the same Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, but where Moderna boasts a 95% effective rate, Pfizer's is slightly lower at 94%.
Another important fact is that the vaccine must be stored at cold temperatures to remain stable. Moderna requires a less cold temperature (-20 C) than Pfizer (-80 -90 C) and is easier to transport, store, and distribute at venues such as clinics, doctor's offices, CVS, and Walgreens, where it could last up to a month.
Slaoui stated that Pfizer's vaccine must be used within days and is intended for mass immunizations in the hundreds or thousands at venues such as hospitals. It must be kept "supercooled" on dry ice from the moment it is produced and can only be removed from cold storage a few days prior to injection. Although Pfizer has designed an intricate transportation system, any delays along the way to its destination could render it inert and ineffective.
And you would never know.
At this point, news of Pfizer being the first to file and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine is changing by the minute, with one report claiming that the vaccine could be available "within hours" of its approval. Once approved, the vaccine will be shipped to countries around the world.
Hopefully, the elaborate storage system will succeed in keeping the vaccine active. But there's no way of knowing.
Moderna is close behind and plans on filing an emergency mandate next week. Considering it has a longer shelf life and is as effective as Pfizer's, this might be the preferable choice, if you're willing to be the first in line.
The jury is still out on that one.
Let's hope the alleged "light at the end of the tunnel" is truly within reach.