US okays Moderna Covid-19 vaccine as pandemic surge worsens (Lead)

US regulators approved a second Covid-19 vaccine in a single week’s time, greenlighting a shot developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health for emergency use for Americans 18 years and older.

The Moderna approval comes exactly a week after the US Food and Drug Administration okayed a shot from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Moderna expects to have 85-100 million shots available in the US in the first three months of 2021. Vaccinations are set to begin Monday.

The US government has ordered at least 200 million Moderna doses at a time when the country is getting hammered by the pandemic winter surge. Deaths in the US are at record highs, crossing 3,000 per day at a steady clip.

The virus, which originated in China a year ago, has killed more than 3,12,000 Americans in 11 months. New cases in the US are running at over 2,16,000 per day on average.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is now being administered to millions of healthcare workers and in nursing homes, which have borne the maximum burden of the US outbreak.

For Moderna, the US FDA approval is a world first. For Pfizer, the US approval came after Britain and Canada authorised nationwide use. Ongoing studies of the Moderna two-shot vaccine show more than 94 per cent effectiveness and strong protection among older adults.

America counts more than 53 million people in the category of senior citizens and 40 per cent of deaths have been in nursing homes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million Americans have underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe Covid-related illness.

US Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams all received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination on live TV Friday, in a bid to instill confidence among Americans.

Pfizer and Moderna’s dash to the finish line have broken all vaccine development speed records, and on a new mRNA technology platform. The coronavirus itself isn’t there inside the mRNA vaccine. Instead, it is embedded with a piece of genetic code that trains our bodies to recognize imminent enemy action from the spike protein on the surface of the virus. When the mRNA enters our cells, it begins to spew copies of the coronavirus’ spike protein. That prompts the immune system to churn out antibodies against the virus.