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Moderna Says Its COVID-19 Vaccine is 94.5% Effective. It Could Also Solve Pfizer’s Storage Problem.

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  • On Monday, the biotech company Moderna released preliminary data that, so far, shows a 94.5% effectiveness rate in its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
  • The news comes a week after Pfizer and BioNTech announced a 90% effectiveness rate in their joint vaccine. 
  • While this is undoubtedly hopeful news and could indicate success for other vaccine candidates, several questions have not yet been answered. 
  • For instance, it is unknown how long either vaccine provides immunity, how effective they are at preventing asymptomatic cases, and if they are as effective among older people.
  • Still, Moderna’s vaccine has one major advantage over Pfizer’s vaccine since it’s able to be stored at regular fridge temperatures, as opposed to an ultra-cold negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Moderna Announces Its Vaccine Is 94.5% Effective

Moderna released preliminary data on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate on Monday, which it now says is 94.5% effective. 

That announcement comes one week after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech released similar data that showed their joint vaccine is more than 90% effective. It also comes as the United States logged a single-day record of 180,000 new cases on Friday and has now crossed 11 million confirmed cases since January.

Moderna’s trial, now in its late stages, involves 30,000 people. Of that, half were given two doses of the vaccine, and the other half were given placebo injections. 

So far, in total, 95 people in the study have contracted COVID-19. That’s where the 94.5% figure comes in, because of those 95, only five cases have come from people who were given the vaccine.

On top of that, while 11 of those 95 cases have been severe, Moderna said all 11 came solely from the placebo group. 

 Moderna’s Vaccine Solves a Key Problem

Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are very similar. Both use genetic material known as mRNA to target a protein on the surface of the coronavirus. Thus, given Pfizer’s announcement last week, it had been expected that Moderna would soon follow up with its own promising results. 

To note, both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine efficacy rates can change as the last little bit of data pours in, but if they hold up and if this data stands up among reviewers, it would blow expectations out of the water. While anyone would hope for the best possible vaccine, realistically, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been ready to approve — at minimum — a vaccine that is only 50% effective. 

It’s also too soon to begin comparing which of these vaccines has better efficacy. In fact, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Business Insider that it would be “naive” to compare Pfizer’s 90% efficacy with Moderna’s 94.5% efficacy.

That’s because there’s still a host of unknowns. For example, it is still unclear for either vaccine how long immunity will last. It’s also possible that immunity could differ between age groups, as some vaccines are less effective in older people. 

It’s also unknown how effective the vaccines are at stopping asymptomatic infections and thus, the spread of the virus. For example, it’s possible that the vaccines could confer enough immunity to keep an infected individual from becoming symptomatic; however, that person could still run the risk of spreading the virus. 

Still, Moderna’s vaccine does have one key advantage over Pfizer, so much so that if both vaccines do end up having near the same level of effectiveness, Moderna could still edge out Pfizer as the more viable vaccine.

That’s because Pfizer’s vaccine must be shipped at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit — meaning it needs dry ice and special containers. From, there it is able to be stored at normal fridge temperatures (36 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to five days.

Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine candidate can be shipped and stored at normal fridge temperatures for up to 30 days. 

What’s Next for Moderna?

Both Pfizer and Moderna plan to apply for emergency-use authorization later this month. Still, it is unclear how long it’ll take for the FDA to make a decision on whether to approve these vaccines.

If and when these vaccines are approved, they are going to be very limited. Very likely, the first vaccines are going to be reserved for people who are more at risk of contracting COVID-19. That includes people who have underlying conditions, as well as healthcare workers. 

As far as when these vaccines could become widely available, Bancel suspects that’ll happen somewhere around Memorial Day, which will fall on May 31 next year.

By the end of next year, Moderna hopes to have a billion doses available — enough to vaccinate 500 million people around the world. That’s on top of the 1.3 billion doses Pfizer and its partner BioNTech hope to have by the end of next year.

To properly put an end to the pandemic, there will need to be more than just one safe and effective vaccine. Simply put, one company’s vaccine isn’t going to be able to vaccinate the whole world.

Just as Pfizer’s data boded well for Moderna, Monday’s news could also bode well for Johnson & Johnson, as well as Astrazeneca. Both companies have vaccine candidates that are in late-stage trials, and while they don’t use mRNA, both of their vaccines target the same protein that Pfizer and Moderna are targeting.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (BBC) (Reuters)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

See what others are saying: (CNN)(BBC) (The New York Times)

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