A coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Massachusetts biotech company Moderna will begin large-scale testing this week.
Moderna is one of several companies to receive federal support through Operation Warp Speed, President Trump’s program to get a safe, effective vaccine to the American people as soon as possible.
Moderna received $483 million in April and an additional $472 million to help fund the trial.
The upcoming trial is expected to include 30,000 participants, some receiving the vaccine and others receiving a placebo. The first participant was vaccinated Monday, the same day Trump’s national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien tested positive for the virus.
Moderna’s COVID vaccine is a first-of-its-kind innovation that builds on discoveries made during the MERS outbreak in 2012. It utilizes messenger RNA (mRNA) to help the immune system recognize the spike-shaped protein COVID uses to invade cells.
“When the RNA goes into the muscle cell, it creates and produces a protein, and when that protein is sitting on the muscle cell, it looks just like the protein that would be sitting on a virus,” explains Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“This is the main point of attack; the immune system recognizes this, it starts making antibodies to different surfaces…And then we count on those antibodies to be present if the virus ever shows up with this same exact protein on its surface.”
Phase 1 trials confirmed that Moderna’s vaccine can elicit neutralizing antibodies at a level similar to that of a person who has recovered from COVID.
The experimental vaccine has been associated with the mild side effects common to almost all vaccines: headache, fever, muscle pain, and general discomfort. It is impossible to contract COVID as a result of the vaccine, adds Dr. Graham.
“I’m hoping this vaccine could be as much as 70 or 80% effective,” says Dr. Graham, adding that at least 60% of the population would need to be immune to establish herd immunity. “That means almost 100% of people would have to be vaccinated.”
COVID has infected more than 15 million people and killed roughly 630,000 worldwide. The United States reported 60,000 new infections Sunday, pushing the total number past 4.2 million. More than 143,000 Americans have died. As of Monday, California had the most cases followed by Florida and New York.