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US authorizes Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine

December 19, 2020

The FDA has cleared a second vaccine to boost efforts at ending the pandemic in the US. Moderna's vaccine will likely be used in harder-to-reach areas of the country due to the relative ease of storing its doses.

Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe
The US is the first nation to approve Moderna's COVID-19 vaccineImage: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine has become the second to receive the US Food and Drug Administration's authorization for emergency use, as the world's hardest-hit nation grapples with more than 3,000 coronavirus deaths a day.

"With the availability of two vaccines now for the prevention of COVID-19, the FDA has taken another crucial step in the fight against this global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States each day," said FDA chief Stephen Hahn on Friday.

President Donald Trump also welcomed the news. "Congratulations, the Moderna vaccine is now available," he said in a tweet.

The FDA's announcement comes a day after the US agency's panel of outside experts endorsed the use of the two-dose regimen.

"Authorization of Moderna's vaccine means we can accelerate the vaccination of front-line health care workers and Americans in long-term-care facilities, and, ultimately, bring a faster end to this pandemic," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

The US is the first nation to approve Moderna's vaccine, a week after a vaccine jointly developed by BioNTech and Pfizer was given the green light.

Comparing vaccines

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was first authorized by the United Kingdom on December 2, followed by several other nations, including Canada.

Both Moderna and BioNTech-Pfizer have developed vaccines based on cutting-edge mRNA technology and have shown to be about 95% effective.

What's next?

The biotech company will now begin distribution of 5.9 million shots as early as this weekend from cold storage sites outside the US cities of Memphis and Louisville. They will be shipped across the country via partnerships with FedEx and UPS.

Moderna's shots are expected to be used in the more remote and rural parts of the US due to the relative ease of storing the doses.

While the vaccine needs to be shipped and stored frozen, unlike the BioNTech-Pfizer shot, it does not have to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures. Once thawed, the Moderna vaccine can be kept at typical refrigerator temperatures.

The US government has paid Moderna for a total of 200 million doses, enough to vaccinate 100 million people.  

The company has said it will deliver approximately 20 million doses this year. It is also expected to have 100 million to 125 million doses ready in the first quarter of next year, about 80 million of which will be for the US.

The remaining 100 million doses will be delivered by end of June 2021.

adi/sms (AFP, Reuters)