A week after similar news from Pfizer, the American biotechnology company Moderna announced Monday that a late-stage trial shows its experimental coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective, provoking a fresh wave of demands that Big Pharma giants and policymakers worldwide ensure that any Covid-19 vaccine developed using taxpayer money and government support be safe, free, and available to all.
"This is a pivotal moment in the development of our Covid-19 vaccine candidate," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. "Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters. This positive interim analysis from our phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent Covid-19 disease, including severe disease."
An independent board appointed by the National Institutes of Health analyzed the trial results for the Moderna vaccine, which was developed in collaboration with the Vaccine Research Center, part of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The institute's director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told the New York Times on Monday that "aspirationally, you would like to see 90, 95%, but I wasn't expecting it. I thought we'd be good, but 94.5% is very impressive."
— The People's Vaccine (@peoplesvaccine) November 16, 2020
Moderna plans to apply for emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "in the coming weeks" and hopes to have 20 million doses ready by the end of the year, then manufacture 500 to one billion doses in 2021. Like the vaccine developed by the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German drugmaker BioNTech—which a phase 3 study found may be more than 90% effective—each person requires two doses.
Campaigners pointed out on Monday that many of Moderna's doses have already been claimed by wealthy countries. According to the London-based group Global Justice Now, 780 million doses have been sold to rich governments, or 78% of the billion doses the company says it can produce by the end up next year.
"We welcome any good news when it comes to a coronavirus breakthrough, but sadly most of the world cannot celebrate today," said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. "Moderna's is predicted to be the most expensive potential vaccine on the market, at around $35 a dose, even though it has been made with vast public support. The U.S. government has spent over $1 billion in direct support alone. What's more, well over 78% of what Moderna is likely to produce has already been sold to very wealthy countries."
— Nick Dearden (@nickdearden75) November 16, 2020
"At the end of the day these vaccines are a big part of our route out of this crisis," Dearden added. "We appreciate that Moderna has said it won't enforce patents as long the pandemic continues, but this alone is not sufficient to ensure this vaccine benefits humanity. This is truly a taxpayer funded vaccine and should be placed in the public sphere through the World Health Organization so the whole world can benefit."
Amnesty International detailed in a statement that the United States has paid for 100 million doses from Moderna, with an option of 500 million more, while Canada has ordered 56 million, Japan has ordered 50 million, and the European Commission completed talks with the company for up to 160 million.
"Having already sold most of its potential 2021 vaccine supply to rich countries, Moderna must follow through on its promise to allow others to make the vaccine, and provide the knowledge and technology to do so, once the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective," declared Stephen Cockburn, head of Amnesty's Economic and Social Justice Program.
Noting last week's announcement, Cockburn argued that "companies like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have a responsibility to respect human rights, and they should play a leading role towards a global solution to Covid-19 by sharing and ensuring affordable prices. They must not act in a way that allows governments to hoard vaccines for a privileged few."
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"We can only put an end to Covid-19 if companies ensure that those most in need of life-saving vaccines are not left behind. It's time for companies to live up to their human rights responsibilities and ensure the widest possible access to their innovations," he added, echoing a warning last week from United Nations human rights experts.
As Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, put it Monday: "This is the people's vaccine. The NIH's vaccine. It is not merely Moderna's vaccine. Federal scientists helped invent it and taxpayers are funding its development. We all have played a role. It should belong to humanity."
Moderna's vaccine candidate was funded by the people. It belongs to the people. https://t.co/hwtnE6TKli
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) November 16, 2020
Maybarduk directed his message to both outgoing President Donald Trump—who has yet to publicly accept the results of the November 3 election—and President-elect Joe Biden, who said earlier this month that "I want everyone to know on day one, we're going to put our plan to control this virus into action."
According to Maybarduk, "Both the current administration and President-elect Biden have the opportunity to make this vaccine a public good that is free and available to all and help scale up global manufacturing, in order to prevent medical rationing that could become a form of global vaccine apartheid."
"If the NIH vaccine proves safe and effective, it could be one of the most important medical tools of our time. But limited supply could keep this vaccine out of reach for billions of people worldwide, extending their suffering for several years," he warned.
In a separate statement Monday about a new Public Citizen report, Maybarduk delivered a similar message to the global community, saying that "in the worst health crisis in a century, vaccine funders must use every tool at their disposal to share technology and teach the world to make vaccines."
The report, authored by Public Citizen law and policy researcher Zain Rizvi, focuses on the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is made up of foundations and governments and co-leads the WHO's Covid-19 vaccine access facility, known as COVAX. The report says in part:
No one corporation can supply the world with a vaccine. CEPI—and COVAX—should make all their contracts publicly available, and enforce corporate compliance with their equitable access conditions. They should also leverage the full extent of their existing authority to increase technology transfer and scale-up affordable supply. Moving forward, they should coordinate with the WHO's sister initiative, the Covid-19 technology access pool, to openly share technology, so that all qualified manufacturers are able to scale-up access.
"CEPI and COVAX should live up to their stated commitments to transparency," Rizvi said Monday. "Accountability begins with transparency."
As of Monday afternoon, there were more than 54.6 million Covid-19 cases and 1.32 million deaths worldwide. The United States continues to lead both counts, with over 11 million infections and 246,500 deaths. With surges occurring nationwide, some state leaders are imposing or reimposing restrictions.