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ANALYSIS-Countries seek more doses of Moderna and Pfizer amid increased concern about rival vaccines

Por Carl O’Donnell

NEW YORK, Apr 16 (Reuters) – Wealthy governments are turning to COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc to keep their vaccination programs on track as safety concerns and production issues have pushed aside at AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson dosages, say public health experts and industry analysts.

Countries in Europe and Asia, as well as South Africa, are limiting or stopping the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for safety reasons. Deployment of J & J’s single-dose vaccine was halted in the United States and Europe this week for a handful of cases of very rare but dangerous blood clots in the brain, much like AstraZeneca’s safety issue.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it was studying whether the technology in both vaccines was linked to clotting events. Both use a modified cold virus as a vector to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells and elicit an immune response.

Combined, the two vaccines should account for more than 25% of the world’s supply in 2021, according to a Reuters tally of public statements and media reports.

Pfizer’s vaccines with its German partner BioNTech SE and Moderna use a different method to protect against COVID-19 that relies on messenger RNA (mRNA), which programs cells to generate immunity against coronavirus.

According to analysts, the two vaccines were already considered the preferred choice among wealthy countries, based on data from clinical trials showing greater than 90% efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19.

So far, about 120 million Americans have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine with no major safety concerns identified. Now the United States and the European Union are pushing to stock up on more mRNA vaccines. Japan is also working to get 100 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer by the end of June. “Right now, (mRNA-based vaccines) are the Lamborghinis or McLarens of COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, referring to luxury cars. . J&J and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Both Moderna and Pfizer said they are working to increase production above their 2021 targets of up to 1 billion and 2.5 billion vaccines, respectively. Pfizer said this week that it is targeting a 10% increase in dose deliveries to the United States through May and 50 million more doses for Europe in the second quarter of 2021. The EU is also negotiating up to 1.8 billion doses of Pfizer. for 2022 and 2023. German biotech CureVac, which is testing its own mRNA vaccine, said Thursday that demand for its injection has risen in recent days following the J&J hiatus. The company expects to apply for the European authorization in late May or early June.

“IT’S NOT CHEAP”

Higher cost, production limits, and demanding transportation and storage requirements could limit the availability of mRNA-based vaccines in lower-income countries, experts say.

“The raw materials needed for mRNA manufacturing and production are not cheap right now,” said Hartaj Singh, a biotechnology analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.

“In the second half of this year, we’ll see the conversation shift to, ‘okay, how can we help the developing world get mRNA vaccines?” Singh said, referring to countries like the United States, which have pledged to do so. .

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel reiterated this week that his company could significantly increase production in 2022.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Moderna was speaking with a US company with the capacity to produce 30 million doses of its injection each month.

But poorer countries are likely to continue to rely on vaccines from J&J, AstraZeneca, and others from China and Russia, which, unlike mRNA injections, can be stored in a standard refrigerator, making them a better choice for vaccines. rural areas and difficult to access.

This could change, according to Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“Hopefully there will be an innovation around the storage of mRNA vaccines that will allow their wider use,” he said.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell, additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Allison Martell in Toronto; Edited in Spanish by Javier López de Lérida)

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