- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will host a panel of experts Tuesday to vote on who should get the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine as a second company, Moderna, asked federal regulators for emergency approval.

The Massachusetts company said Monday that its vaccine was 94% effective in its final analysis, putting the nation on course to have two manufacturers pumping out millions of doses before the new year.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet in Atlanta and decide who should get the first allotment of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer in what’s known as “phase 1a.”

Health workers will likely be first in line, though the committee is figuring out how to prioritize other high-risk people, such as workers in critical infrastructure versus seniors or people with severe medical conditions.

State leaders typically show deference to ACIP recommendations but will make the final call on how to use initial doses.

“Governors are really like air-traffic controllers. They’re going to tell us which hospital, which pharmacies, where they would like [the vaccines] to go,” Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II told “CBS This Morning” on Monday.

“They will be determining which groups to be prioritized. I would hope that the science and the evidence will be clear enough that our governors will follow the recommendations that we will make to them. We’ll certainly call out any inequities or injustices that we see in [their] approach and we’ll assess all of our options as we go,” he said.

Moderna said Monday it counted 196 cases among its tens of thousands of participants in its late-stage trial and that 185 of them were in the placebo group versus 11 among those who received the vaccine — an efficacy rate of slightly over 94%.

Scientists counted 30 instances of severe COVID-19 in the trial, yet all of those cases occurred in the placebo group, a sign that the shots thwarted illness. There was one COVID-19 death in the placebo group.

The vaccine was effective across all ethnic groups, according to Moderna, which developed its candidate with help from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We believe that our vaccine will provide a new and powerful tool that may change the course of this pandemic and help prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death,” said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.

The results are consistent with an earlier analysis of the company’s messenger-RNA vaccine, which is delivered in two doses. Moderna’s stock price jumped 20% in Monday trading despite a broader sell-off on Wall Street.

Moderna filed for approval from the Food and Drug Administration and European regulators as the world awaits an immunization campaign that can bring the virus to manageable levels in 2021.

Moderna and Pfizer, based in New York City, are the only drugmakers to seek FDA approval for a COVID-19 vaccine so far.

President Trump tweeted that the Food and Drug Administration “MUST ACT QUICKLY!!!” in approving the applications.

Progress on vaccines comes at a critical juncture in the pandemic. The seven-day rolling average of reported cases dropped in recent days but remains high, at 162,000. Widespread transmission tends to presage hospitalizations and then more deaths.

More than 93,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Sunday — the most since the pandemic began — and over 1,400 people are dying in the U.S. each day, on average, bringing the nationwide death toll to 267,000.

Federal and state officials are pleading with Americans to buckle down and take basic precautions while they wait for the vaccines, as the virus surges across the country.

“We have lost nearly 17,000 of our fellow New Jerseyans to this virus. We lost 18,300 New Jerseyans in both World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War COMBINED. Take this seriously,” tweeted New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat.

“As we come out of the long Thanksgiving weekend and turn our gaze to the December holidays, we must remember that this virus is not done with us. Let’s redouble our efforts and end the year by crushing the curve a second time, so we can look forward to a better 2021,” he said.

December will be a busy month for federal regulators.

The FDA is scheduled to meet with an advisory panel on Dec. 10 to discuss the Pfizer vaccine. A similar meeting for the Moderna shots is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 17, paving the way for likely approval of both.

“We could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people’s arms before Christmas,” Mr. Azar told CBS.

The Trump administration is hoping to immunize at least 20 million people before the end of the year.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s incredibly promising and impressive efficacy data further demonstrate that President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is rapidly advancing on a trajectory of success to save millions of American lives — five times faster than any other vaccine in history,” said White House spokesman Michael Bars.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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