The two vaccines have much in common

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The two vaccines have much in common

The encouraging late-stage trial results from Pfizer and Moderna in the past week set a high bar for rivals such as AstraZeneca that are expected to follow soon with their own pivotal reports on Covid-19 vaccines. Here's what we know about the first two shots.

How do the results compare?

Moderna says its vaccine was 94.5% effective in a preliminary analysis. That compares favorably with the lofty level achieved by Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech. The shot created by the U.S. and German companies was found to be more than 90% effective. Moderna data showed that side effects were generally short-lived and there were no significant safety concerns, while no serious Covid cases developed among trial participants who got the vaccine. 

What do the two vaccines have in common?

Both shots rely on a technology called messenger RNA that has never been used before to develop an approved vaccine. The approach is designed to transform the body's own cells into vaccine-making factories. The vaccines instruct cells to make copies of the spike protein of the coronavirus, stimulating the creation of protective antibodies.

How are they different?

Mainly in how they were funded. Moderna received $955 million from the U.S. Operation Warp Speed program. Pfizer has said it didn't receive any federal funding to develop its vaccine, though BioNTech got as much as 375 million euros ($444 million) in German government assistance. Still, Pfizer has struck a supply agreement with the U.S. worth nearly $2 billion. The U.S. has agreed to pay up to $1.53 billion to purchase supply of the Moderna shot.

What are the storage and distribution challenges?

Pfizer's vaccine must be stored ultra cold until a few days before it is used, but can be kept at refrigerator temperatures for as much as five days. Moderna, meanwhile, pointed to new data showing its vaccine is stable at refrigerator temperatures for 30 days, much longer than a previously estimated seven days. It can be kept in freezers over the longer term and doesn't need the special facilities required for the Pfizer vaccine.

When could they be ready to deploy?

The results are preliminary, but both Moderna and Pfizer are expected to seek emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration if further review demonstrates their vaccines are safe. Moderna said it could seek clearance from regulators in the coming weeks. Pfizer expects to get two months of safety follow-up data in the third week in November. If all goes well, Pfizer could apply for an authorization in the U.S. this month.

What are the big questions that remain?

There are a number of hurdles that would need to be cleared in immunizing hundreds of millions of people. It's still uncertain how long protection from potential vaccines would last and how many people would refuse to roll up their sleeves once a shot is actually deployed. Health advocates worry that increasing doubts about Covid vaccines could hinder the rollout. Ramping up production and distributing the doses also pose challenges.—James Paton

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Moderna Shot: Antidote to Deep-Freeze Problem?
It can be stored at refrigerated temperatures in contrast to Pfizer's vaccine.

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