Pfizer and Moderna Could Mark the Start of a New Era in Vaccines

If approved, the companies’ Covid-19 vaccines would be the first of their kind

Emily Mullin
Future Human
Published in
4 min readNov 19, 2020

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Syringe against covid-19 background.
Photo: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech partner BioNtech announced that their Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective in a clinical trial, sparking hope that an end to the pandemic may soon be achievable. More good news came this week, with an announcement from Massachusetts-based biotech firm Moderna that its vaccine was 94.5% effective. Not to be outdone, Pfizer released more data on Wednesday, showing 95% efficacy.

Stocks of the companies soared on the news. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the results “very impressive” and said 20 million Americans could be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of December or beginning of January. If the Food and Drug Administration authorizes their use, they would be the first vaccines of their kind on the market.

Vaccines usually take a decade or more to develop. Getting a Covid-19 vaccine to the public in less than a year would be nothing short of a scientific triumph. In addition, Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, which are made using genetic technology that has never been approved for human use before, give us a glimpse of how vaccines could be developed in the future when new infectious diseases emerge.

The traditional method for making and mass-producing vaccines is complicated, expensive, and extremely time-consuming. It involves first growing a virus or other pathogen in animal cells or chicken eggs, which can take months. Then, the pathogen is extracted and killed or weakened so it doesn’t cause infection (some newer vaccines use just a small piece of the pathogen). Then, the vaccine has to be purified and must undergo extensive safety testing.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines rely on a different approach. Instead of using the actual pathogen or part of it to spur an immune response, they use a small…

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Emily Mullin
Future Human

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.