What is the difference between the Covid vaccines? Pfizer, Oxford and Moderna explained as Valneva production begins

Luke O'Reilly
·4-min read
<p>There are now multiple possible vaccine options</p> (REUTERS)

There are now multiple possible vaccine options

(REUTERS)

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine beat its rivals to be the first to be approved for use in the UK — but the Valneva jab could soon join the Moderna and Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccines in gaining authorisation.

The large-scale manufacturing of the Valneva coronavirus vaccine candidate, which is expected to deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year if approved, has started in Scotland.

Since the start of the pandemic, scientists around the world have been racing to develop a jab that prevents Covid-19.

The UK made history when grandmother Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first patient in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 jab following its clinical approval.

Since Margaret millions of jabs have now been administered across the UK but second jabs have been delayed to get the most amount of vulnerable people some protection as soon as possible.

So what are the differences between the vaccines?

Pfizer/BioNtech

The Pfizer jab is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.

Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus’s genetic code.

An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens. These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.

The Pfizer vaccine will begin UK rollout next weekShutterstock / Oksana Kuzmina
The Pfizer vaccine will begin UK rollout next weekShutterstock / Oksana Kuzmina

No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine. This means the rate at which it can be produced is dramatically accelerated.

As a result, mRNA vaccines have been hailed as potentially offering a rapid solution to new outbreaks of infectious diseases.

In theory, they can also be modified reasonably quickly if, for example, a virus develops mutations and begins to change.

mRNA vaccines are also cheaper to produce than traditional vaccines, although both will play an important role in tackling Covid-19.

One downside to mRNA vaccines is that they need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures and cannot be transported easily.

Moderna

The Moderna vaccine works in a very similar way to the jab from Pfizer/BioNTech.

Coronavirus is studded with “spike proteins” that it uses to enter human cells. Covid-19 vaccines target this spike protein.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA), a genetic material that contains information about the spike protein.

The vaccines provide the body with instructions to produce a small amount of this protein which, once detected by the immune system, leads to a protective antibody response.

Moderna’s vaccine does not require the same ultracold storage as Pfizer’s and can remain stable at normal fridge temperature for 30 days.

Trials on more than 30,000 people in the US have shown the Moderna jab to be 94 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus.

Moderna has not identified any significant safety concerns and its vaccine has been approved for use in the US.

The MHRA accepted the recommendation of the Commission on Human Medicines and authorised the Moderna vaccine on January 8.

Watch: How does the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine work?

Oxford/AstraZeneca

The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca was approved by the MHRA in December last year.

The Oxford jab is not an mRNA vaccine, instead it uses a harmless weakened version of a virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees.

Oxford data indicates the vaccine has 62% efficacy when one full dose is given followed by another full dose, but when people were given a half dose followed by a full dose at least a month later, its efficacy rose to 90%.

The combined analysis from both dosing regimes resulted in an average efficacy of 70.4%.

Watch: How does the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine work?

Valneva

Clinical trials are still ongoing for the Valneva vaccine candidate but manufacturing has started at the French biotech company’s site in Livingston, West Lothian.

The candidate is currently in phase one/two trials and will need approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before it is rolled out.

Initial results from the ongoing clinical study, involving 150 participants at testing sites in Bristol, Southampton, Birmingham and Newcastle, are expected in April.

The vaccine works by using technology already used in existing vaccines that are used for prevention of diseases such as as the flu and Japanese encephalitis.

It uses inactivated whole particles of SARS-CoV-2 to induce a strong immune response.

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