Science

Moderna vaccine expected for Spring UK rollout

The UK was the first western nation to fully license a vaccine against COVID-19. Source: Neelam279 (via Pixabay)
Following the approval of British-based regulators, a third coronavirus vaccine is being prepared for widespread use by Spring 2021.

By Jack Robert Stacey | Technology Editor

The mRNA-1273 vaccine (commonly referred to as the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine), functions similarly to the vaccine developed by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals just weeks before and is expected to see widespread use later into the start of 2021. Developed by the Massachusetts-based bio-technology company, Moderna Therapeutics, statistical data has highlighted the vaccine’s 94% efficacy rate in preventing the development of severe disease.

Acting on the authorization of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the UK has placed a pre-order for 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine – 10 million more than expected by medical experts.

As the first western nation to fully license a vaccine against COVID-19, the UK government is seeking to continue its vaccination delivery plan which claims to have distributed approximately 1.5 million vaccinations to vulnerable individuals across the UK and Ireland. Including the recent orders for the Moderna vaccine, the UK government has currently ordered 367 million doses of vaccine from other Pharmaceutical companies based in Europe and the United States of America.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Under-Secretary of State for the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, confirmed that “the NHS is pulling out all the stops to vaccinate those most at risk” and that “over 1,000 vaccination sites” have been established across the UK “to provide easy access to everyone, regardless of where they live.” Continuing in regard to the MHRA’s approval of the Moderna vaccine, Zahawi attested that it “will be a vital boost to these efforts and will help us return to normal faster.”

Moderna’s jab comes just weeks after the release of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, both of which were subject to rigorous testing by MHRA to ensure they complied with the UK’s standards of “safety, quality and effectiveness”.

Before development of Moderna’s vaccine began, the scientists acquired an isolated version of COVID-19 from an infected patient in China and set about analysing the virus’ genetic information.

Development of the vaccine began after Moderna acquired an isolated version of the COVID-19 virus from an infected patient from China. With the assistance of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the scientists eventually identified the specific sequence for the virus’s ‘spike protein’, a critical protein in COVID19’s genetic make-up.

The instructions for producing this ‘spike protein’ were later encoded into an instruction molecule designated as “messenger RNA” (or mRNA) which, after being injected into the body, is taken to immune cells. These cells then replicate the ‘spike protein’ as if they had been infected by the Coronavirus and, as a result, inform the body’s immune system on how to better protect itself if exposed to the virus.

In contrast to more common vaccination methods, mRNA vaccines essentially enable the patient to make their own vaccine, instead of using the COVID-19 virus itself to develop one.

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, praised Moderna’s new vaccine as “fantastic news” for the UK and, in reference to the continued growth of COVID-19, regarded it as “another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease”. Speaking on the government’s continued rollout of vaccinations across the UK and Ireland, Hancock noted that: “While we immunise those most at risk from COVID, I urge everyone to continue following the rules to keep cases low to protect our loved ones.”

Although the entire world remains gripped by the continued spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, the release of Moderna’s latest vaccine will undoubtedly aid in the protection of vulnerable people across the UK.

Science and Technology Jack Robert Stacey

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