Monday kicked off the week with at least one piece of good news: Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is reportedly 94.5% effective, according to a press release posted on the company’s website this morning. It’s the second vaccine to deliver early results of a phase three trial, after Pfizer announced that its vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective on November 9 .
Moderna is basing this announcement off an analysis of 95 cases of COVID-19 in their trial; 90 of those cases occurred in the placebo group, while 5 were in vaccinated participants, the press release explains. What’s more, of the 11 severe cases of coronavirus among study participants, all occurred in the placebo group.
Coronavirus vaccines should be at least 50% effective at preventing the disease or decreasing its severity, according to the Food and Drug Administration. In an interview with The New York Times, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (which collaborated with Moderna to help develop the vaccine), called the 94.5% efficacy “very impressive.”
The company hopes to have 20 million doses of their vaccine (called mRNA-1273) ready to ship in the U.S. by the end of this year. That’s a good start, though 20 million doses is a drop in the bucket when compared to the ultimate goal of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine development accelerator Operation Warp Speed, which was meant to deliver 300 million doses of a vaccine by January 2021. While Moderna’s release stated that the company “remains on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021,” The Times reported that the vaccine likely won’t be widely available until next spring.
Moderna was the first company to begin testing vaccines on human subjects back in mid-March. The very first person to receive one was Jennifer Haller from Seattle, WA. We spoke to her shortly after she received that initial prick, again after her second shot (the vaccine, like Pfizer’s, is delivered in two doses, though it's spaced four weeks apart to Pfizer's three), and once more in May, when Moderna released preliminary data from the phase 1 trial indicating that the vaccine was safe and effective. We caught up with Haller again this morning to ask her about how she feels about the news.
Refinery29: It’s an exciting morning! How did you hear the news about Moderna’s announcement?
Jennifer Haller: “When I woke up, I saw a friend’s post on Facebook. The first thing I saw was a Fox Business video of the Moderna CEO, Stéphane Bancel, talking about the results.”
What was your reaction?
“It’s amazing. I thought that the Pfizer announcement that its vaccine was 90% effective was quite amazing. So to see Moderna come out with an even higher number is just astounding. It’s very exciting, of course, and it makes me feel hopeful.”
How have you been feeling, physically, in the months since we last spoke?
“I'm doing great! I feel… normal.”
Have you had any more follow-up tests as part of the trial?
“I have follow-up visits every three months, most recently at the beginning of October. I'll have another one in three months or so. I’ll have two more over the next six months.”
Do you know what they're looking for with that?
“They don’t tell us. But I know they have looked at antibodies, because they did release some information about the first eight of us after a couple of months, saying that we did have neutralizing antibodies. But phase 3 is when they look at efficacy. The purpose of phase 1, which I was in, was to look at the safety in humans. So the testing, I believe, is more about looking at our overall health.”
Did you end up ever testing positive for COVID? Have you ever had to get a test or been around someone who was positive?
“No, I've been very safe. I wear my mask and practice social distancing, and do everything else that everybody's doing right now. I've not been exposed to COVID, to my knowledge, and actually don’t know anyone personally who’s had it.”
When you have to be in public, is there ever a part of you thinking, "Well… I know I received a vaccine that seems to be doing well”?
“No, not at all. I mean, I’m aware that I was part of the trial. But I don't presume that I have any immunity. I think that's just the safest way to go. After all, I just had the 25-microgram dose of the vaccine. With the phase 3 trial, they're testing a 100-microgram dose. So I don't presume any immunity as a result of being in the trial.”
If the Pfizer vaccine gets approved and ultimately is distributed, would you get that vaccine? Or have you been told you shouldn't, due to your participation in the Moderna trial?
“I haven't been told whether I should or shouldn't. There is a chance that because of my participation in the Moderna trial, I could have a negative reaction to a different vaccine. When the time comes, I will talk with the study doctors and I'll collaborate with my own primary care physician to determine if I should receive the vaccine or not.”
What’s it been like, watching the race toward the vaccine from your position? Are you rooting for the Moderna vaccine to win?
“No, no — I'm rooting for science. I'm rooting for any of these vaccine candidates to prove efficacy. I don't have any special allegiance to Moderna at all. I just got lucky to be able to participate in the first trial. It's so exciting that there are so many others, and that there are different ways of approaching a vaccine.
“It’s really cool and interesting that the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are messenger RNA vaccines. It’s my understanding that no messenger RNA vaccine has been approved before, so that's really remarkable that they're showing that high efficacy rate right now.”
Do all your friends come to you with their vaccine questions?
“[Laughs] Yeah, totally. But I really don't have any special knowledge or insight into the science behind it.”
Last time we spoke, we were all so scared and uncertain — but now, more people are getting back to normal life.
“What's really striking to me, though, is that we should be just as worried as we were back in March and April. Looking at the numbers and the rising caseloads, we actually should be more careful than we were back then. And yet, even personally, I'm much less careful now than I was back then
“Another interesting thing is that within the past couple months, we’ve seen that recent surveys are showing that only half of the country would get the vaccine. I really believe that will change once the vaccine comes out and once people realize that it works and it saves lives. I trust that we’ll come around and come together for the most part, to get vaccinated and be safe.”