The first covid-19 vaccine developed as part of Operation Warp Speed is likely to be authorized for emergency use this week in the US following an all-day meeting of federal medical advisors today, December 17.
The shot, called mRNA-1273, was developed by the biotech company Moderna, and the US is relying heavily on it to meet the US government’s timeline of vaccinating most of the population by June.
The vaccine, which contains a snippet of the coronavirus’s genetic code, is based on a novel approach that employs an injection of messenger RNA encased in fatty particles. A similar vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, was authorized last week, but the US secured only 100 million doses. Supplies are limited as the world clamors for the shot.
While Pfizer worked independently, Moderna received billions in funding from the US and collaborated closely with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, making its vaccine the first success of Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s moonshot program to end the pandemic.
In a large clinical trial run in the US, the Moderna shot worked exceptionally well, besting all expectations. After two doses, the efficacy against covid-19 was 94%. A few people who got the vaccine in the trial still got infected, but none developed a severe case of covid-19.
MIT Technology Review spoke with Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel earlier this week about his frame of mind as his company’s product nears authorization.
The US is depending heavily on Moderna’s shot to restore the economy and day-to-day life. On December 14, the Trump administration exercised an option to buy an additional 100 million doses, bringing the total that Moderna has promised to 200 million. So far, however, there is only enough made to vaccinate a few million people.