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  • Quinn Chappelle

Moderna vs. Pfizer: The Race for A Vaccine

Moderna has now announced that their trials have indicated that their vaccine is nearly 95% effective. Pfizer announced that their early data showed their COVID-19 vaccine to be more than 90% effective, now updating that claim for it to be 95% effective.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously stated that COVID-19 vaccines must be at least 50% effective, meaning these vaccines are more than impressive. Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in a recent interview, “I had been saying I would be satisfied with a 75 percent effective vaccine. Aspirationally, you would like to see 90, 95 percent, but I wasn’t expecting it. I thought we’d be good, but 94.5 percent is very impressive.” Moderna, alongside Pfizer, is planning on asking the FDA for emergency authorization.

Let’s see how these two match up.


Moderna is an American pharmaceutical company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moderna is a new company that has yet to produce any drugs. This did not prevent President Trump from funding Moderna with nearly one billion dollars and promising $1.5 billion to purchase, manufacture, and distribute as a part of Operation Warp Speed. Previously Moderna had raised some concerns with its spokesperson citing high prices for the vaccine--however products funded by Operation Warp Speed will be provided for free to Americans.


Pfizer is an American multinational pharmaceutical company, whose headquarters is located in New York City, New York. Pfizer has partnered with BioNTech, a German biotech company, to develop their vaccine. Both Pfizer and BioNTech have produced several biomedical products. Pfizer did not take any initial funding from Operation Warp Speed, but has been promised $1.5 billion dollars in return for 100 million immunizations through Operation Warp Speed.


Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are both mRNA vaccines which are recent developments in the scientific community. The mRNA vaccine works as a set of instructions provided to the cells. These instructions contain strains of mRNA which the cells can then use to develop a protein specifically engineered to fight the virus. Comparatively, traditional vaccines inject a weak or dead version of the virus for the body’s immune system to teach itself how to defeat it. But, the mRNA vaccine has never been federally approved. Yet, most vaccines take about 5-10 years before becoming approved for distribution, so it’s not entirely damning that a mRNA vaccine has not been approved. Pfizer and Moderna’s data regarding their mRNA vaccines shows the undeniable strength and effectiveness these types of vaccines can offer.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously stated that COVID-19 vaccines must be at least 50% effective, meaning these vaccines pass the bar with flying colors. Moderna, alongside Pfizer, is planning on asking the FDA for emergency authorization in order to begin immunizations as soon as possible. If these companies are successful in getting approval, these vaccines can begin to be distributed to those especially at risk: emergency medical staff, healthcare workers, and nursing home residents. However, even if these vulnerable populations can start getting vaccinated by the end of 2020, it is unlikely that groups who are not high-risk will be able to receive the vaccine before the spring of 2021. This coupled with rising COVID-19 cases means social distancing and mask wearing needs to be continued until a majority of the population is sufficiently vaccinated.

Both of these vaccines also require two shots: a primary shot and a booster shot. This provides some disadvantages as people will have to return after a few weeks of receiving their initial shot which could lead to complications. Additionally, this means people will have to wait weeks to become fully immunized. Another frontrunner, Astrazeneca also faces these difficulties as it also requires two doses. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine, projected to be released in early 2021, only requires a single dose.

These vaccines both have surpassed the traditional timeframe in which vaccines are developed from the typical 5-10 years to producing them within a year. This feat merits much celebration but also a note of caution. These vaccines, while proven to be safe and successful, lack sufficient time to document how long these immunizations will last and if there are long-term effects. Neither Pfizer or Moderna has yet cited any harmful side effects, but without years of data it could be difficult to understand the long term impact of these vaccines. However, with international pressure to end the pandemic, a solution to the global crisis has been prioritized more than anything.


Pfizer updated that their vaccine is 95% effective, most likely a result of Moderna’s announcement. But, this small difference in percentage is negligible when considering difficulties that could arise in preparing the vaccine for distribution. Moderna’s vaccine does not require extreme cold temperatures as Pfizer’s vaccine does. This would likely mean easier and faster distribution. Pfizer has begun planning with four states: Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee, in order to combat any difficulties before officially distributing vaccines. Moderna has not announced any coordinations in planning the distribution of their vaccine.

Only half of Pfizer’s available vaccines for late 2020/early 2021 will be distributed to the U.S. population, meaning only 12.5 million immunizations will be available to 330 million Americans. Moderna has received more in funding and promised purchases from Operation Warp Speed, meaning its share of 25 million available immunizations will likely be more available to Americans than Pfizer’s. Through Operation Warp Speed, both of these vaccines will be provided free of charge to Americans.

The Future

While exciting, more vaccines will be needed in order to provide enough vaccines globally--so don’t rule out the University of Oxford-Astrazeneca’s vaccine or Johnson and Johnson’s to soon join the mix. Yet, as new developments surface regarding vaccines, it seems as though there is hope that this global pandemic and economic depression is coming closer to a visible end. Even though life most likely will not return to “normal” fully until late 2021 or early 2022, the promise of normalcy and the end of widespread death is reason enough for celebration.

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