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Promising vaccine does not need super-cold storage

·3 min read

On Thursday, Stephen Walsh said he hoped drug company Moderna would be able to release preliminary results of its COVID-19 vaccine trials by the end of November.

Moderna did one better.

The U.S. firm announced Monday that preliminary data from its Phase 3 trials show the vaccine is about 94.5 per cent effective. That’s even better than the 90 per cent effectiveness reported last week by partner firms Pfizer and BioNTech.

Not only that, but the company said its product may not need to be stored at super-cold temperatures as originally thought.

Walsh, who grew up in Mount Pearl, is an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and part of the team overseeing Moderna’s trials.

He spoke to The Telegram last week.

Drug companies and adminstrators are not party to clinical data until an arm's-length board reveals results once a certain threshold is reached.

The percentages are not final, and are likely to decrease as more data is tabulated, but Walsh said it still bodes well for a safe and effective vaccine being rolled out early in the new year.

“The bigger question is going to be durability,” he said. “How long does the protection last?”

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines require second shots, at three weeks and four weeks respectively, and only time will tell how long immunity from the coronavirus lasts.

People can catch the same influenza or cold virus after a year or less in some cases.

“It would be really nice to think that one of these vaccines is going to be good for your lifetime, but I don’t know if that’s realistic,” Walsh said.

Last week, Pfizer reported its vaccine may have to be stored in ultra deep freezers than can achieve temperatures as low as -80 C .

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said local health authorities have been attempting to procure extra freezers just in case.

But Moderna said Monday its vaccine remains stable at much more routine temperatures.

“(The vaccine agent) mRNA-1273 remains stable at 2° to 8°C (36° to 46°F), the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator, for 30 days,” the firm said in a news release. “Stability testing supports this extension from an earlier estimate of seven days. mRNA-1273 remains stable at -20° C (-4°F) for up to six months, at refrigerated conditions for up to 30 days and at room temperature for up to 12 hours.”

Canada has pre-purchased 358 million vaccine doses from several companies, including Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Quebec company Medicago, which is partnering with British giant GlaxoSmithKline.

“The rationale around having multiple pre-purchase agreements is that it spreads your risk around, but it also gives you flexibility to get as many doses as possible,” Walsh said.

He said the rate of manufacturing will play a role in how quickly vaccines are distributed.

“If you assume the United States is getting 10 million doses the first month that one of these becomes available, maybe Canada gets one million doses,” he said.

“It’s going to take months and months and months of very concerted deployment efforts to get there.”

However, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health said Canada’s provinces and territories have already agreed to the principle of prioritizing vaccinations based on vulnerability.

“Everyone across the country has agreed in principle to the way that the vaccine should be distributed,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said last week. “There are a few more considerations we have to look at before we make a decision about who gets what vaccine and where.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram