Europe ready to start Moderna vaccine rollout

But fears continue to grow over inoculation response to new virus variants

European countries could begin rolling out Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine as soon as next week after it was on Wednesday, news wires report. “With the Moderna vaccine we will have a further 160 million doses. And more vaccines will come,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. Vaccinating the EU’s 450 million people could be crucial to ending the pandemic.

But at the same time fears grow whether the jabs could stop as well more infectious variants of the virus appearing in the latest months. Currently variants found in South Africa and Britain are transmitted across the Union driving a surge in infections.

The first deliveries of Moderna vaccine to European countries will begin next week, the company said without disclosing details on volumes. The EU approval marks the fourth authorisation for the vaccine after the US, Canada and Israel, and further validation of the new genetic mRNA technology it uses. The EU approved a shot from Pfizer and BioNTech, also based on mRNA technology, two weeks ago. Additional authorisations for the Moderna shot are under review in Singapore, Switzerland and the UK.

The Moderna vaccine is administered in two doses 28 days apart. Like the Pfizer shot, it relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines. On Monday, Moderna raised its production target for 2021 to at least 600 million doses, up by 100 million. Switzerland’s Lonza Group has a contract to supply ingredients for the vaccine, while Spain’s Rovi is assembling the shots for fill-finish services.

The EU has ordered 160 million doses of the Moderna shot, enough to vaccinate 80 million people in its 27 Member States. The vaccine was about 95% effective at preventing illness in clinical trials, which found no serious safety issues. The Dutch national drugs authority, the CBG, said the Moderna vaccine was expected to be effective against the variant of the coronavirus detected in Britain, but cautioned this had to be confirmed by further research.

It has to be stored and shipped frozen, but does not require the ultra-cold temperatures of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Once thawed, it can be kept at typical refrigerator temperatures. Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the Moderna vaccine could be kept in a fridge for up to 30 days. “Each vial has 10 doses so again, once the vaccine has reached room temperature there is a need to ensure that it is all used within 18 hours at most, so the logistics of delivering the vaccine are more complicated than for say flu vaccines,” he added.

EU countries started vaccinations on 27 December and are trying to catch up with countries such as Britain and Israel where large numbers of people have already received inoculations. The campaign has already gotten off to an uneven start, with officials in Germany and France frustrated at the slow rate of progress.

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans have received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot since the rollout began just over a week ago. By comparison, Britain has administered more than a million of the vaccine in just under a month. The Netherlands started vaccinations with that shot only on Wednesday, giving its first injection to a 39-year-old care home nurse.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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