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Moderna joins other vaccine leaders in European supply talks

Moderna and the European Commission said Monday they have "concluded exploratory talks" to supply at least 80 million doses of the biotech's experimental coronavirus vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 to member countries. The commission anticipates securing an option to purchase another 80 million doses.

Moderna's shot is one of the leading experimental vaccines now in massive Phase 3 trials to determine whether they can reduce the number of COVID-19 cases. On Friday, the company announced it has enrolled more than 13,000 of a planned 30,000 patients in the trial. It aims to complete enrollment in September.

European nations had been slower than the U.S. and U.K. to sign purchase agreements, but in recent weeks have ramped up their efforts. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac have all been in talks to supply the 27 countries of the European Union with vaccines.

Developing a vaccine that's safe and effective against COVID-19 is only part of the battle. Getting it to patients quickly will be essential to bringing to end the pandemic that has now infected 23 million people around the world.

The U.S. and U.K. were earlier to the supply game, signing up leading vaccine manufacturers as early as May, in the case of the U.S. through the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed initiative. Europe's work has intensified in the past month, as it completed a deal with AstraZeneca 10 days ago and has gone through advanced talks with J&J, Sanofi, GSK and CureVac.

Supply talks and agreements have preceded the completion of the Phase 3 trials that aim to prove whether the vaccines actually keep people from developing cases of COVID-19. So far, these agreements have secured access to more doses than will be necessary to inoculate the population of the EU. But given that one or more experimental vaccines could fail in pivotal trials, the excess may prove to be a necessary safety net.

In the case of the Moderna talks, the initial 80 million doses would be sufficient to vaccinate 40 million people because mRNA-1273, like many of the experimental candidates, requires a booster shot after a month.

The negotiations the EC has disclosed so far have involved most of the leading vaccine makers, with the exception of partners Pfizer and BioNTech. Along with AstraZeneca and Moderna, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is expected to be the first to report Phase 3 data, as all have already enrolled around one-third or more of the planned subjects. 

Last week, Pfizer said it had enrolled about 11,000 patients.

Once one or more vaccines have gained approval, the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns will come down to how quickly they can be manufactured and distributed. While all of the companies involved have ramped up manufacturing, the distribution and delivery of vaccines will rely on the individual country efforts. And those efforts will depend on national and regional public health resources, health systems and awareness campaigns to encourage people to get coronavirus shots.

Author:Jonathan Gardner


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