The Food and Drug Administration is expected on Friday to authorize the Moderna coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, in recognition of the nation’s urgent need to blunt the pandemic that has broken record after record in U.S. deaths, hospitalizations and economic losses.
The rapid progress from lab to human trials to public inoculation has been almost revolutionary, given that vaccine development has traditionally taken years.
Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that worked on its product in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is helping shepherd in a new technology based on genetic material called messenger or mRNA, whichPfizer’s vaccine with BioNTech also uses. In both companies’ clinical trials of tens of thousands of Americans, the vaccines proved to be roughly 94 to 95 percent effective. Both versions require two shots.
The two vaccines are reaching the arms of an anxious public before vaccines using more traditional technology, and their deployment has become even more urgent as other companies’ efforts have faltered in recent months.
An F.D.A. advisory panel of experts on Thursday nearly unanimously endorsed the Moderna vaccine for emergency use, and the agency’s top officials generally follow the panel’s recommendations.
What follows is expected to be a swift and complex drive to distribute some 5.9 million doses of the Moderna vaccine around the country, with shipping to begin on Sunday and deliveries on Monday. The first Moderna vaccinations could then be given hours later.
Because Moderna’s product does not need extreme-cold storage and is delivered in smaller batches, states are hoping to disseminate the nation’s second vaccine to less populated areas, reaching rural hospitals and community health centers that were not at the top of the distribution list.
And unlike Pfizer’s rollout last week, the Moderna deliveries will be managed by the federal government under the funding of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s initiative to push an accelerated timetable for getting vaccines to the nation.
The Moderna rollout relies on one of the country’s largest distributors of drugs and medical supplies: McKesson, based in Irving, Tex.
Though its role is largely invisible to the public, McKesson will serve on two main fronts: distributing Moderna’s vaccine, and producing kits that include the supplies needed to administer both it as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.