Moderna's safety concerns over COVID 19 vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson Janssen have led to disruptions in the inoculation efforts of many countries relying on these shots, companies like Moderna are attempting to fill the gaps.
The biotech company announced on April 29 that it is investing billions to make strong manufacturing facilities in Switzerland, Spain and the U.S. to produce enough capacity to produce up to 3 billion doses of its mRNA-based vaccine by 2022.The company's adenovirus technology differs from that of AstraZeneca and J&J, which both use an adenovirus to deliver COVID 19 virus genes to the immune system and which have been associated with various, life-threatening — albeit very rare — blood clots.
Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna says that some of the richer developed countries are eager to up their orders of mRNA vaccines.'In the last month or so, in the discussions we have had with heads of state, prime ministers, presidents of countries and health ministers when governments look at efficacy, safety, manufacturing scalability and the speed to the next generation of vaccines, what we are hearing is that mRNA is the best for the problem at hand, says Bancel. And governments around the world want more and more mRNA products.
To meet this need and the needs of facilities in less-extended countries that currently don't have the refrigeration capability to store the company's vaccine, Bancel says that his scientists are studying a new version of the Moderna vaccine that will not need to be kept in frozen condition for up to three months.Currently, it can only be stored at those temperatures for one month after doses are thawed from their freeze-thawed storage temperature of about 20 C — which requires special equipment that is not widely accessible.If the studies show that moderna's vaccine could be stable and effective at refrigerated temperatures, it could increase the number of places that could be vaccinated with new virus shot.
'We played with a couple of key technologies and it is indeed a very different product, adds Bancel about the refrigerated version, which was just testing in people.That means efficacy data won't be available until the end of summer at the earliest; the company is working with the FDA to figure out what the authorization process would look like for that vaccine
Meanwhile, the company is also studying three viral versions of their COVID 19 vaccine to address new mutations.One is specifically designed to protect against a more infectious variant of the virus, B. 1.351, first identified in South AfricaThe current Moderna vaccine has been found in studies to provide sufficient protection against this variant, but this protection is slightly lower than that from the original viral strain and Moderna researchers are testing if the new shot activates a stronger immune response against the B. 1.1.351 variant.Studies in humans are promising and human studies have just begun, so by early fall, says Bancel : "we expect data for the new vaccine in humans to be as strong as what we saw last year with the current vaccine.
Moderna team is currently testing whether a third shot of its approved vaccine could be effective as booster — at a lower dose than the first and second shots — in order to increase protection against variant strains.And finally, the company is also testing a vaccine that combines the new vaccine with the original one to the South African variant.
Looking ahead, some public health experts believe that controlling COVID -- 19 may require regular vaccinations similar to flu shots to maintain immune protection.Moderna researchers are also working on a combined shot of the flu and COVID 19 that would protect people against both respiratory diseases.