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Moderna and Henry Ford Health System announce promising vaccine results


A potential COVID-19 vaccine tested at Henry Ford Health System is showing promising early results.

Interim data for the vaccine, developed by the drug company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, shows 94.5% efficacy in producing antibodies that defend against the virus.

Henry Ford was one of roughly 90 sites in the U.S. that participated in the 30,000-patient vaccine trial, and the only one in Michigan. The Detroit-based hospital system recruited over 700 patients to receive two doses of either the vaccine or a placebo, according to Moderna’s chief development officer Melanie Ivarsson.

Henry Ford’s Dr. Paul Kilgore, a principal investigator in the study, says these early results show the vaccine’s ability to trigger an immune response, whereas data produced in the following months “will tell us how long people hold onto this antibody.”

A vaccine candidate from the company Pfizer has shown similar results, with the company announcing last week more than 90% efficacy, also based on an interim analysis.

Both vaccines are mRNA-based: genetic material, or messenger RNA, that encodes for the coronavirus’s spike protein is injected into the patient’s arm. In an effective response, the immune system recognizes the proteins and generates antibodies in defense.

Though studied for decades, the mRNA technology has led to no approved vaccine.

Both Moderna and Pfizer say they will seek an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor in epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, says before being granted anything, the companies will have to present safety and efficacy data to the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, a group that advises the FDA. 

Monto, who chairs the committee, says the yet-to-be-scheduled meetings “will be available on YouTube, so everybody can watch it all. It’s as transparent as you can get.”

Ivarsson says doses will be ready to distribute by December should the FDA grant Moderna the emergency use authorization.

When it's time to distribute the vaccine, says Kilgore, Moderna's might be easier to handle than Pfizer's, because it can hold up in warmer environments.

“The vaccine has a refrigerator storage temperature” he said. “It also is stable at room temperature for a few hours. So it has some major advantages.”

Pfizer’s candidate, on the other hand, requires ultra-cold storage in specialty freezers.

Editor's note: Henry Ford Health System is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

**Correction: A previous version of this article did not include Dr. Arnold Monto's physician title.

Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.
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