The world received some welcome news this week as Moderna announced promising results of a preliminary analysis of its candidate vaccine for Covid-19.
The analysis, conducted by the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board appointed by the National Institutes of Health, found the candidate vaccine has an efficacy rate of 94.5 percent. The first interim analysis of the study of 30,000 participants looked at 95 cases of patients who tested positive for Covid-19. Of those, 90 patients received a placebo, while only five had been given the m-RNA vaccine.
The analysis also indicated that the vaccine may reduce the severity of the disease, with no vaccine recipients included in the 11 severe cases observed in the study sample.
A part of Operation Warp Speed, Moderna is expected to soon request Emergency Use Authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and anticipates having about 20 million doses of the vaccine ready to ship in the U.S. by the end of 2020, according to a news release put out by the biotechnology company.
"This is a pivotal moment in the development of our Covid-19 vaccine candidate," said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna in a press release. "Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters. This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent Covid-19 disease, including severe disease."
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced it had ended its phase-3 study and that analysis showed its Covid-19 vaccine candidate has an efficacy rate of 95 percent with no serious side effects. The company expects to submit a request for emergency approval of the vaccine to the FDA within days.
Both vaccines are expected to be made available first to front-line health care workers and first responders. All Americans, with or without health insurance, will be able to receive their initial vaccine treatment without charge, according to a news release by the Alabama Department of Public Health, which also said vaccine distribution in the state will be "made equitably to those most at risk, the chronically ill and seniors in all 67 Alabama counties."
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are expected to come in two doses, an initial dose followed up by a booster shot.
"There has been a lot of news about vaccines the past two weeks as Pfizer and Moderna have both released information saying their vaccine testing results have been shown to have at least 90 percent effectiveness," said a news release by EAMC. "At this point, however, there are still a number of unanswered questions, such as when the first vaccines will be approved, the number of doses needed and the type of vaccine available to Alabama providers. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) planning process with providers is a work in progress and is dependent on learning more at the federal level."
More potential good news on the Covid immunity front came out this week, with a study published online indicating that immune memory could provide protective immunity to Covid-19 and lessen the severity of the disease for someone who may be reinfected. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows that some level of immunity could potentially last much longer than initially thought.
The positive news on the vaccine development and immunity fronts comes as the nation is entering a dangerous new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, with new cases and hospitalizations skyrocketing across the country. In Alabama, the number of new cases has been steadily climbing over the past month. As of Tuesday, Alabama has had about 221,000 total cases since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, with more than 25,000 new cases coming in the last 14 days, according to ADPH data. Total hospitalizations in the state are nearing 23,000, with Covid-19 deaths recently passing the 3,300 mark.
Cases have also been rising in Lee County, with the seven- and 14-day moving averages slowly increasing over the past two weeks. Hospitalizations at East Alabama Medical Center and EAMC-Lanier have plateaued after jumping from 20 to 33 patients last week. EAMC currently reports 32 patients hospitalized with Covid, with six patients on ventilators.
"With the continued increase of new cases in the area, we’d expect that hospitalizations will increase as well in the coming days, just as it has done during previous community case increases,” said John Atkinson, EAMC spokesman. “Hospitals nationwide are expressing concern over their current number of hospitalized patients with Covid-19 and the major holidays approaching.”