By: Alyssa Walrad
2020 has certainly been a unique and challenging year on a scale most of us would not have initially imagined when celebrating New Years. One factor that has remained a daunting constant in our lives is the novel coronavirus. As we begin thinking about the holiday’s, many states are under subjective mandates that drastically alter any plans to celebrate with friends and family. The looming COVID-19 pandemic has not only instilled fear into millions around the world, but has also become a politicized public health crisis with, up until now, no end in sight.
Multiple news outlets reported last week that two large pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have created coronavirus vaccines with remarkably successful effective rates. As of Wednesday morning, Pfizer’s vaccine now holds at 95 percent effective as it concludes Phase 3 clinical trials, up about 5 percent just from their initial announcement. With this discovery, CNN reports that Pfizer will file for an EUA (emergency use authorization) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “within days.” This pivotal move brings clarity to millions that public health officials and scientists have a declarative plan on how to combat this extensive new norm, while simultaneously raising hopes.
Pfizer’s vaccine differs greatly from Moderna’s in a few ways. Pfizer requires their vaccine to be kept at minus 70 degrees celsius, making distribution, administration and storage of the interim candidate extremely difficult and arguably much more expensive. On the other hand, Moderna’s 94.5 percent effective vaccine only needs to be kept at around minus 20 degrees celsius, about the same temperature as a typical freezer, according to NPR. These differences are due to their subjective formulations; even though both are presumably being created and used to combat COVID-19, they do not share uniform structures, so temperature difference is an element each company’s data has concluded to best support the integrity of the vaccine.
Temperature is an extremely important factor in the distribution process, as it affects finances and access to equipment to effectively maintain an environment sufficient for the samples, as the components involved can easily denature. With this, it poses some challenges for distribution, it also changes administration tactics to patients. Moderna’s relatively unproblematic vaccine can be kept at a higher temperature, be thawed and kept at a refrigerator temperature up to 30 days, and even be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours. Pfizer requires more careful monitoring and temperature stability to prevent the enzymes degrading.
These elements combined, coupled with the approval timelines, can be utilized in various environments to maximize opportunity for everyone to receive the vaccine, if they wish.
mRNA vaccination is a revolutionary technology that has been yet to be approved by the FDA. According to NPR, both companies have used mRNA, a component found naturally in the human body during protein synthesis, as the key component in prompting an immune response when injected. In this instance, the patient’s cells begin making a specific coronavirus protein, which the immune system responds as if the patient actually had been infected. Like other vaccines, if the patient were to be exposed to COVID-19 after, the immune system can recognize and combat this infection, more likely avoiding the severity that so many have experienced.
Margaret Liu, a vaccine researcher who chairs the board of the International Society for Vaccines and Debra Kristensen, a 30-year veteran of vaccine innovation and supply chains at PATH, an international nonprofit focused on public health both have had a hand in representing the face of public relation concerns and the COVID-19 vaccine.
Additionally, immunization manager of Vermont’s distribution plan Christine Finley states that having two vaccines with such positive effective rates so far are vital in this global pandemic. Yet, with such controversy plaguing our news outlets because of the federal administration’s tactics, there is “still a need to show that they’re safe and they’re effective and we need to build trust with the public — so there’s still a ways to go, but this is good news.”