Vaccine update: Moderna and Pfizer lead the way

Moderna and Pfizer use a technology known as messenger RNA to expedite immunity response within the cells. (Courtesy of Unsplash)

With Toronto and the Peel Region entering a lockdown today, and news constantly flooding of record-high case numbers, optimism regarding the pandemic is becoming scarce. The cold weather and the accompanying seasonal depression aren’t doing anyone any favours either. But there may finally be some light at the end of the tunnel, courtesy of Moderna and Pfizer. 

The companies have recently delivered updates to the public that their vaccines are well on the way, with Moderna claiming a 95 per cent effectiveness rate and Pfizer boasting 90 per cent. Both companies have expressed that side effects tracked thus far are very short-term and there are no other significant safety concerns at this time. 

The pharmaceutical giants are both based in the United States. However, Pfizer has teamed up with the German biotech company BioNTech to expedite the process. 

At the core, both vaccines have a similar usage mechanism known as messenger RNA. It should be noted that this technology has never been employed in an approved vaccine before, potentially making this COVID-19 vaccine the first of its kind. 

The messenger RNA is designed to instruct cells in the body to make copies of the spike protein found within COVID-19, which would stimulate the production of protective antibodies. This would essentially turn the body’s own cells into vaccine-making machines. 

The monetary support given by different governments in regards to both vaccines is notable. Moderna received a total funding amount of USD$955 million part of the Operation Warp Speed Program, a partnership initiated by the U.S. government to facilitate the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Pfizer states that it has not received any federal funding, but has reached a supply agreement with the U.S. for nearly USD$2 billion. This rivals the supply deal the U.S. reached with Moderna for USD$1.53 billion. Additionally, Pfizer’s partner BioNTech received €375 million (USD$444 million) in German government assistance. 

“We’re all anxiously awaiting a vaccine and want one fast, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of quality.” 

On the Canadian end of things, the last update from the Trudeau cabinet was that a total of CAD$191 million was being used to fund vaccine efforts by the Quebec-based Medicago and the Vancouver-run Precision Nanosystems. This is in addition to six other contracts Canada has with companies including Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.  

Third-year health studies student Sadaf Khan is happy to see the Canadian government investing in a potential homegrown cure and is eager to watch it develop. 

“I think investing in Canadian pharmaceutical companies’ attempts to develop a vaccine is something that would give our citizens a lot of hope. Most of the pharmaceutical giants of the world are based out of the U.S., but people shouldn’t forget that smaller companies all around the world are working hard to put an end to the virus as well.” 

First-year health studies student Kai Kalchik is aware of the situation we all find ourselves in, and is hoping the companies’ race to be first does not get in the way of a quality cure that would benefit everyone. 

“It’s evident we’re in the long-predicted second wave. So many people have suffered because of this pandemic and a lot of lives have been lost and it’s tragic to say the least. For me, any news getting us closer to a cure is good news,” says Kalchik. “I just hope they’re taking their time to monitor everything and make sure it works the way it’s supposed to without any serious side effects or potential unknowns. We’re all anxiously awaiting a vaccine and want one fast, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of quality.” 

Concerns are present in terms of how long the protection from the vaccine would last and how many people would refuse the medicine, as health advocates warn of some people’s mistrust of vaccines. 

Storage and distribution is another issue to keep in mind. Pfizer states their vaccine must be kept in extremely cold temperatures until a few days before use, but can be left in refrigerator temperatures for as much as five days. Moderna, on the other hand, has demonstrated that its vaccine can last stably at refrigerator temperatures for 30 days.  

As for when it will actually be available to the public, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced looking towards spring 2021. Results are in fairly preliminary stages though, both companies have expressed urgency in getting their vaccines out for government approval as soon as possible. 

About the Author

Shivam Sachdeva

By Shivam Sachdeva

Health Editor

health@excal.on.ca

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