Guest Blog | Covid-19: is the vaccine race over?


Cliodhna McDonough, Director, Fieldfisher

Emily Lockey, medical doctor and trainee lawyer, Fieldfisher

The last few months have signalled hope that we might soon see the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many vaccine candidates released positive results and now the gradual roll out of the vaccine has begun. What about the others who were also part of the race? What does this mean for their efforts and essentially, is the vaccine race over?

While the vaccines we have for Covid-19 have shown promising results there are still some drawbacks that create opportunities for other players to enter this space.

For instance, Pfizer's vaccine must be stored and transported at -70°C and has a shelf life of five days when defrosted and refrigerated. As a result, the Pfizer vaccine is likely to be only widely accessible to wealthy countries who can afford the requisite ultra-cold freezers.

The Moderna vaccine has a shelf life of 30 days once thawed and stored in a standard refrigerator but must be transported at -20°C. Whilst the 30-day shelf life of the Moderna vaccine at refrigerated temperatures makes supply more feasible, it is still likely to present difficulties for mass distribution.

The Oxford vaccine is easier to store and distribute due to stability at higher temperatures, which will help ease the logistical and supply issues associated with the other vaccines.

Hope for the other promising vaccine candidates?

There are many other vaccine candidates undergoing phase III clinical trials and many are expected to read out throughout 2021.

In particular, Imperial College are developing a vaccine which due to the way it was formulated requires  a smaller dose amplifying the immune response. The vaccine is also more stable at higher temperatures so, similar to the Oxford vaccine, more suitable for community distribution and is likely to be best served as a regular booster jab for maintaining immunity. Imperial are expecting to get market authorisation mid-2021, in the hope that the vaccine can be rolled out in time for a winter booster.

Different vaccines are likely to produce different levels of immunity and will be useful for different populations. Further, differing vaccination regimes and supply chain logistics will make some candidates suitable for some countries and not for others, and it will be important to match the type of vaccine with the available supply chain and the people who will receive it.

As such, we are going to need as many vaccines as possible to be able to provide immunisation that is effective across all demographics and is globally available. It is therefore important that researchers carry on vaccine trials as long as possible and investors still give attention to Covid-19 vaccine efforts, despite the emergence of successful candidates.

As to whether the race for a vaccine is over? As Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, put it: "No one company can supply the planet. We need three or four vaccines to make it to the finish line…"