U.K. Clears Moderna’s Vaccine to Add Third Covid-19 Shot
A nurse prepares to administer the Moderna Inc. Covid-19 vaccine to a healthcare worker at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital in Valley Stream, New York. (Photographer: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/Bloomberg)

U.K. Clears Moderna’s Vaccine to Add Third Covid-19 Shot

The U.K. cleared Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine, adding a third shot for emergency use against the pandemic as infections surge.

Britain’s medicines regulator said Friday that it has authorized the U.S. company’s vaccine, confirming an earlier report by Bloomberg. As the country ramps up immunizations against the fast-spreading coronavirus, the Covid death toll now stands at more than 78,000 across Britain.

The U.K. also ordered an additional 10 million Moderna doses, bringing the total to 17 million, with delivery beginning in the spring. The regulator approved the shot on a two-dose regimen, given four weeks apart, after authorizing a longer gap for other vaccines.

The Covid-19 shot from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford won U.K. clearance late last month. That followed authorization of another vaccine, from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, in early December. The European Union and the U.S. have also cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products.

Moderna shares rose 1.7% in premarket U.S. trading.

U.K. Clears Moderna’s Vaccine to Add Third Covid-19 Shot

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pinned his hopes for a national recovery on a plan to deliver 2 million coronavirus vaccinations a week, after the U.K. went back into lockdown in an attempt to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the 15 million most vulnerable people and carers by Feb. 15. That requires a massive increase in the rollout of the injections and the government has deployed the military to help speed up the process. So far around 1.5 million people have received at least one shot across the country.

New Technology

Like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna shot uses messenger RNA technology, which transforms the body’s own cells into vaccine-making factories. The shot is 94% effective in preventing disease and slightly easier to transport and store than the Pfizer vaccine, which requires deep freezing and must be used within five days of thawing. The Moderna shot must also be kept frozen but can survive refrigerated for up to a month.

A decision to prioritize giving people a first dose of vaccine to try to speed up mass immunization, with a wait of as much as three months for the second dose of both the Pfizer and Astra shots, has proved controversial. Clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine were conducted with a three-week interval between doses and the company has said it has “no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why the dosing timeline for the Moderna vaccine is shorter.

If the most vulnerable groups have been given some protection by the middle of February, Johnson has said the government will be able to consider lifting some of the lockdown restrictions that threaten to push the U.K. economy into a double-dip recession.

U.K. Clears Moderna’s Vaccine to Add Third Covid-19 Shot

‘Another Weapon’

This is “another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease,” U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement. “The Moderna vaccine will boost our vaccination program even further once doses become available from the spring.”

Ministers have piled up government debt in an effort to support struggling businesses and will continue to pay the wages of workers whose jobs have been furloughed through April.

The U.K. was the first western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine and is ahead of its European neighbors on rolling out immunizations. The EU will get the Moderna vaccine earlier, though, with deliveries there set to begin next week. The 27-member bloc also doubled its potential supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Friday, ordering as many as 300 million more doses.

For Johnson, a successful vaccination drive is a chance at redemption after months of criticism from all sides over missteps and policy reversals in his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The Moderna shot has also been approved in Canada and Israel, alongside the U.S. and EU.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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