The race to find a COVID-19 vaccine

The race to find a COVID-19 vaccine

Emilio Cici, 42, of Burr Ridge, gets a shot at Rush University Medical Center as part of a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Drug manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are leading the pack as researchers around the globe are rush to learn more about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the hopes of developing a treatment, vaccine and cure for the pandemic virus.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the health and economic stability of countries around the globe, COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speeds by researchers and pharmaceutical companies rushing to meet the urgent and widespread need.

In the U.S., drug manufacturers Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have been leading the pack in vaccine development. Pfizer filed for emergency use authorization November 20 on a vaccine it has found to be 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study. Such authorization can be granted by the Food and Drug Administration before the final testing is fully complete to expedite the vaccine’s distribution process.

After promising results in its own clinical trials, Moderna has said it expects to seek the same authorization before the end of the year for a vaccine that company reports is also almost 95% effective in preventing coronavirus transmission.

Meanwhile, Britain’s AstraZeneca has reported up to 90% efficacy in late-stage trials of its own vaccine for one of two dosing regimens tested. In the less effective vaccination timeline tested by the drugmaker, where two full doses of the vaccine were administered one month apart, AstraZeneca’s vaccine was 62% effective.

For the U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies, the next step is consideration by the FDA’s scientific advisers, who will debate each company’s study findings at a public meeting before deciding whether to grant authorization for emergency use of the vaccines before their studies have been fully completed.

In the meantime, manufacturers already have begun stockpiling vaccine doses in anticipation of eventual approval.

Regardless of which vaccine receives approval first, experts say the early distribution will be limited and likely rationed. Additionally, the first people vaccinated will need to undergo extra safety tracking, as the government watches for rare side effects that might crop up when the shots are given to many more people than were involved in the research studies.