EXCLUSIVE: Moderna says discussions on with several countries, partners and Covax to roll out its potential COVID-19 vaccine

Company silent on whether India is one of the countries. Last week, Moderna said its experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. It plans to submit an Emergency Use Authorisation application with the USFDA in the coming weeks.

November 25, 2020 / 12:08 PM IST

US biotech company Moderna said it is having discussions with a number of countries and parties about rolling out its vaccine candidate against COVID-19. The company didn't specify whether India is among the countries it is having discussions with. Moderna hinted about the possibility of joining Covax and said the discussions are ongoing.

Covax is a World Health Organization-backed facility, which aims to supply low and middle-income countries (LMICs), with proven COVID-19 vaccines, while ensuring equitable global access.

"We are seeing enormous interest and are having discussions with a number of countries about Moderna’s vaccine candidate against COVID-19," a Moderna spokesperson said in an email to queries about its plans for India.

On partnerships with Indian drug companies or hospital chains for distribution of the vaccine in India, Moderna said it is holding discussions, but has no new specific agreements to announce at this point of time.

"Moderna is very committed to facilitating access for mRNA1273 and has discussions with many parties to achieve that objective but to respect confidentiality, Moderna does not disclose those conversations," the spokesperson added.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Unlike its rival Pfizer or AstraZeneca-Serum Institute of India, Moderna doesn't have a distribution network in India, and may possibly have to rely on partners to distribute the vaccine.

Discussions with Covax

Moderna said it is actively participating in discussions with multilateral organisations such as Covax.

"Moderna understands the important role that multilateral organisations will play in helping to expand access and protect populations around the world," the company said.

The company added that at this point no agreement has been reached between Moderna and Covax.

Last week, Moderna said its experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial. The company said it plans to submit an Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) application with the USFDA in the coming weeks.

The Moderna vaccine, based on mRNA platform, can be stored for 30 days when refrigerated between 2 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius. The vaccine is also stable for 12 hours at room temperature. For longer-term storage and shipping, the vaccine needs to be kept at freezer temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, a temperature that distributors can deal with, compared to Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that requires minus 70 degrees Celsius. Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also 95 percent effective.

Follow Moneycontrol's COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker here.

Moderna said it is on track to have about 20 million doses of its vaccine ready to be shipped in the US by the end of the year. It is expecting to be able to produce 500 million to 1 billion doses next year.

Moderna has contracted the sites of Switzerland-based Lonza and Catalent to manufacture the vaccine.

The pricing of mRNA vaccine could be a problem for countries like India. Moderna vaccines will cost around $25-$37 per dose, the most expensive one so far. This doesn't include the cost of ultra-cold chain requirements and administration costs.

Pfizer-BioNTech would cost $19 per dose, the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine will be available at $3-$4 per dose, and Russia's Sputnik V vaccine will be priced little less than $10 per dose. All these vaccines have to be given in two doses.

So far the US, EU, the UK and Japan have buying commitments for Moderna vaccine.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Nov 25, 2020 12:08 pm

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