The UK could end up paying more than twice as much as the US for Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine after officials scrambled to iron out a last-minute deal yesterday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday confirmed that Britain would get five million doses of the jab starting in March 2021 if it’s approved by regulators.
And the deal is expected to cost the UK between £24 ($32) and £28 ($37) per dose – while the US, which pre-ordered the jab months ago, will pay just $15 (£11.32) and is expected to get access next month if health chiefs approve the jab.
Britain’s deal could cost a total of between £120million and £165m for enough doses of the vaccine to cover 2.5m people with two jabs each.
The company yesterday became only the second to announce early results of its final clinical trial of the jab, suggesting it may be up to 94.5 per cent effective.
Pharma companies Pfizer and BioNTech last week became the first venture to reveal their early trial results of an almost identical vaccine, which turned out to be 90 per cent effective in a study. The UK is expected to pay £14.71 per dose for Pfizer’s jab.
MPs yesterday questioned whether Britain had backed the wrong horse when it pre-ordered Pfizer’s vaccine and not Moderna’s. Both work in the same way and have proven similarly effective, but Pfizer’s is more difficult to store, while Moderna has never successfull brought a product to market before.
But scientists hit back and said both vaccines are based on ‘risky’, untried technology and to have committed too much money to the projects would have been a worse choice.
Moderna yesterday announced preliminary results from its clinical trial with more than 25,000 volunteers, which suggest its vaccine may be up to 94.5 per cent effective against coronavirus
Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel (left) said that Britain had not ordered any of the company’s vaccine before the trial results were announced yesterday, but a deal was struck before Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) announced a five million dose supply at 5pm yesterday afternoon
CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, confirmed today that Britain had not struck a deal with the company for any of its vaccine until the trial results came out yesterday.
When news broke at midday that the vaccine appeared to be 94.5 per cent effective in its first major trial, officials spent the day scrambling to get their hands on it.
The Government’s science office said in an immediate statement that it was in ‘advanced discussions’ with the company.
By 5pm a deal had been hammered out and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in a TV briefing that Britain had secured five million doses.
Discussions had been ongoing since May, Mr Bancel told Sky News today, but nothing had been finalised.
The European Union also hadn’t completed its pencilled-in deal for a supply of 160million doses.
Authorities placing bigger orders will get cheaper deals, Moderna confirmed today, while countries ordering fewer vaccines will pay more.
A spokesperson said: ‘We have been negotiating pre-approval potential supply agreements, mostly to governments, with smaller volume agreements executed at $32-37/dose.
‘Larger volume agreements are under discussion, with lower prices for higher volumes…
‘Our pricing strategy is the same price for all developed nations.’
The US Government, which contributed $955million (£721m) to the development of the vaccine, will get first access to 100million doses for $1.525billion (£1.15bn).
MPs yesterday hit out at the fact that the Government hadn’t hitched its wagon to Moderna’s project, which may turn out to be more successful than Pfizer’s.
Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said: ‘Shame we weren’t part of the EU vaccine procurement programme, or we’d have early access to the Moderna vaccine, as well as Pfizer vaccine.
‘I do hope the UK Government can secure a good deal at this late stage. I daresay Moderna’s negotiating position just got a lot stronger!’
Labour MP Bill Esterton slammed the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying it was riddled with ‘mistake after mistake’.
‘This time it’s the failure to buy the Moderna vaccine when loads of other countries did,’ he tweeted. ‘Remember Hancock told us we could get a vaccine faster if we didn’t join the EU vaccine purchase scheme. How’s that going?’
But scientists today backed the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce and said the group was right not to take the risk.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna one work in the same way.
They use a fatty molecule to transport genetic material from the coronavirus into the body, and this then tricks human cells into producing the ‘spike’ proteins that are found on the outside of the coronavirus.
When the immune system sees these spikes it surges into action and attacks them, in the process learning how best to stop the spikes latching onto the body.
This means that if someone encounters the real coronavirus, the immune cells already know how to destroy it by recognising its spikes, and can exterminate it before it causes infection.
The pioneering jab is called an mRNA vaccine and has never been used before. Experts argue betting too heavily on it succeeding would have been riskier than not betting enough.
Professor Andrew Preston, a biologist at the University of Bath, said it would have been ‘high risk’ for the UK to back more than one mRNA vaccine.
Moderna’s vaccine works in the same way as the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, by using genetic material called RNA from the coronavirus to trick the body into making the ‘spike’ proteins that the virus uses to latch onto cells inside the body
‘The mRNA vaccines are just one type of vaccine, along with DNA-based, viral-delivery, and more traditional inactivated viral vaccines,’ he told MailOnline.
‘The UK government has been prudent. They’ve invested in a range of vaccine types. The mRNA vaccine is a new platform and the Covid-19 vaccines will be the first licensed use of a mRNA vaccine.
‘As such, it could have been viewed as the most risky of all of the vaccines. So investing in two mRNA vaccines at the expense of, for example, a more traditional vaccine would have been viewed as high risk.’
Professor Peter Openshaw, an experimental medicine expert at Imperial College London, said the UK had been ‘sensible’ to opt for just one of the two mRNA vaccines.
‘I think the government have been reasonably sensible putting in place agreements with a range of vaccines with different technologies,’ he told MailOnline.
‘At the time this procurement was done, we just didn’t know what sort of protection would be likely with any vaccine study.
‘Now trials are coming in, over 90 per cent – this is way in excess of what we were hoping for. We were hoping something over 60 per cent would be great, 50 per cent would be acceptable. But 90 per cent is astonishingly good.
‘It shows the commitment the UK has made to vaccines to be procurement for use in the UK and then offered to other countries.’
DOLLY PARTON CREDITED WITH HELPING MODERNA VACCINE AFTER DONATING $1MILLION
A one million US dollar donation by Dolly Parton appears to have helped fund the production of a promising new coronavirus vaccine.
In April, the country singer announced she had donated the sum to Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee, for coronavirus research.
This week, US company Moderna announced its coronavirus vaccine may be 94.5 per cent effective against Covid-19, and Parton is namechecked in the preliminary report.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report states that the work was supported by the ‘Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund (Vanderbilt University Medical Center)’ amongst other groups.
The development comes after Parton tweeted in April: ‘My longtime friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, who’s been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards research of the coronavirus for a cure.
‘I am making a donation of 1 million dollars to Vanderbilt towards that research and to encourage people that can afford it to make donations.’
While she has yet to acknowledge her involvement since the new report on the Moderna vaccine, Parton’s fans have cheered the apparent impact of her donation.
One of the apparent advantages of Moderna’s vaccine over the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech is that it doesn’t have to be quite so intensively frozen.
Pfizer’s currently needs to be stored at -70°C (-94°F) at all times, which requires expensive specialist equipment and potentially a lot of dry ice.
Moderna’s, meanwhile, remains stable when transported at -20°C (-4°F), which is within the range of a normal freezer, and can then be kept in a fridge for 30 days.
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said the Government’s strategy had focused on ‘securing a number of different doses from a number of different countries’.
‘I wouldn’t say there’s a case of either, or, with these vaccines,’ he said.
He added that it was likely further tests would reveal the Pfizer vaccine can be stored at warmer temperatures for long periods, making it easier to store and transport.
‘Technically, purified RNA is pretty stable,’ he said.
‘They’re erring on the safety side in adopting -70C (-94F) but it’s probably because those are the data that they have now so they cannot go beyond this until they have new data showing its ability to remain stable at warmer temperatures.’
The UK Vaccines Taskforce selected jabs based on their expected ability to elicit an immune response in the over-65s, their expected ability to create long-term resilience, likelihood of being approved by regulators, and those that will report their results in 2020 or up to June 2021.
It does not appear that difficulties with the supply chain, such as the need for large fridges to store the vaccines, were considered in depth.
Chair of the taskforce, Kate Bingham, did not go into detail about the considerations of how a vaccine would be transported to people in an article published in The Lancet at the end of last month.
She included a sentence on transporting vaccines that need to be kept cool: ‘No-one has ever done mass vaccination of adults anywhere in the world before and the two-dose regimen, plus cold-chain restrictions for some vaccines, adds to the complexity of this deployment operation.’
From genetic code to effective vaccine: Timeline of Moderna vaccine development
January 13: Moderna designs its vaccine, called mRNA-1273, after Chinese authorities shared the genetic code of a novel coronavirus two days earlier.
February 24: Preparations are made for its Phase One clinical studies. The doses are shipped to the US-based National Institute for Health, ahead of the launch.
March 16: First participant in Phase One receives a dose. Volunteers for the study are healthy adults aged between 18 and 55.
May 29: After successfully completing Phase One studies, Phase Two trials involving a larger human sample are launched. There are 300 younger adults and 50 older adults involved.
July 27: Following mounting success, Phase Three studies are launched to identify whether the vaccine is safe in the community and stops the spread of the virus.
August 11: Moderna announces a supply agreement with the US government for 100million doses.
August 24: Moderna announces a supply agreement with the EU for 80million doses.
November 16: The company says early trials showed the vaccine was 94.5 per cent effective. Only five out of eighty people who caught the virus had received the vaccine.