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Moderna, Pfizer having similar efficacies is ‘quite encouraging’: Doctor on vaccine progress

Dr. Reynold Panettieri - Professor of Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School joins Yahoo Finance Live to break down pharmaceutical companies coronavirus vaccine progress.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Let's dig into the updates on the vaccine front a little bit more, though. Of course, Pfizer and BioNTech are the ones first to apply for the emergency use authorization there, but Moderna not far behind after we got those results, both about at that 95% effective rate, well above the 50% threshold the FDA had established earlier. So let's bring on a doctor who is part of that Moderna clinical trial there in Dr. Reynold Panettieri, professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

And Doctor, I appreciate you coming on to chat here today. I mean, we were discussing before the show just the speed in which we got here. I mean, talk to me as a doctor was part of the research going into this how surprised you are at the pace that we see ourselves approaching the final chapter.

REYNOLD PANETTIERI: Yeah, this is truly a remarkable, remarkable and stunning turn of events. The fact is that we didn't even have the genomic information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was about nine, ten months ago that we finally cloned and had the genetic code. And to go from that instance to deployment of a vaccine within 11 months is-- warp speed doesn't define. The science behind it, the efficacy and the speed with which everything's occurring, it's phenomenal.

AKIKO FUJITA: I've heard you talk about sort of the key differences between what we have seen from Moderna as well as Pfizer, saying that on the one hand, Moderna's development is more significant because it does look across the full data set. And unlike Pfizer, it doesn't require these special freezers. How are you looking at these two developments right now? And more importantly, how do you think the public should be looking at it in terms of how things are likely to be distributed when it does, in fact, come to market?

REYNOLD PANETTIERI: So let's be clear-- the efficacy signal that we see with Moderna and Pfizer are pretty comparable, pretty amazing, too. As it was mentioned earlier, this is an mRNA platform, a platform that effectively has not been leveraged to this extent. So the fact that two companies with two molecules had very similar, very similar efficacy, is quite encouraging, frankly.

Coming back to OK, what happens now? Well, the logistics is really mind-boggling, because we're talking about hundreds of millions of people, if you look globally billions, to be vaccinated. You are correct that the Moderna approach doesn't require some of the sophisticated freezing, the minus 96 Fahrenheit that's necessary for the Pfizer vaccine. Some of these logistics could be solved by a regional freezer farms that could then serve as the springboard to send the vaccines out.

But it is one hurdle, right? It makes it a little more difficult than using the Moderna product, which could be put into any freezer, your home freezer. But remember, the Pfizer freezer is about five times colder than anything that you would have in your home.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Doctor, looking at it from the standpoint of administration, not only is distribution a problem, but they are both two-dose vaccines. And, of course, we know the adherence and compliance of that is also going to be a concern. As it stands right now, what are your thoughts on how that can be addressed and whether or not we will see people sort of skip that second dose?

REYNOLD PANETTIERI: Yeah, that's a very good point. The mRNA vaccines required two doses-- an initial priming dose and then a booster. And you have to have the two. You have to have the two that have the efficacy. So it is another logistics challenge.

I think people realize the severity and the consequences of a COVID-19 infection. So hopefully, that will drive an improved adherence. But there's no guarantees. The other, more traditional viral vector vaccines, the ones being developed now by Janssen or by or Merck or by AstraZeneca, that's more traditional. And, certainly, the Janssen one's a single dose.

But moving forward, I think we have to recognize that adherence can be a stumbling block. There has to be an understanding by individuals that you must get that second dose. It's, again, another logistics challenge.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and we've already seen how hard it's been to even get Americans to wear masks up until this point as well. But Doctor, when we talk about the timeline here, too, we were just discussing how quick we've moved. The question now becomes how quickly the FDA is going to want to approve this. In your mind, having seen this all play out, Pfizer says in their release here that they're going to be able to get the vaccine to high-risk populations by the middle to end of December. What does the timeline now look like to you?

REYNOLD PANETTIERI: Yeah, so just to step back and get a little more granular here, there takes two things that the FDA is looking at, right? They're looking at efficacy and safety. So both of those have to align to get the EUA.

Now, both companies have done a phenomenal job, actually, in the quality of the studies that have been performed. We were directly involved with the Moderna trial, so very well-done studies. I think the data's there. And I think it will move swiftly through-- through the FDA.

Now, getting to your other point, OK, if you have an approved vaccine, where do we go with them? Well, as I mentioned, it's going to be frontline workers, healthcare workers predominantly, potentially police, firefighters, as well as EMTs. These are the individuals who get the most exposure. So that's going to be critical. That's going to be critical to get those doses to the patients.

The original prediction was that we were going to be nowhere near this year having the opportunity to vaccinate. I think, truthfully, that we will be vaccinating towards that second week in December. Already, the companies are formulating the doses necessary to get this done.

How the distribution of the doses will be is likely going to be a state-driven initiative with federal support. And hopefully, as alluded, that the general populace will be injected probably the beginning of the second quarter or towards the end of the first quarter of 2021. But again, this is a massive effort, a massive effort to vaccinate an entire country, not only an entire world.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and as we've all been watching this play out, it's been amazing to see the progress and the speed at which it's been achieved, but, obviously, not completely done yet. But Dr. Reynold Panettieri, a professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, appreciate you joining us to discuss all that.