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Second Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Begins as Total Number of Cases in U.S. Nears 18 Million

Moderna wins all OKs needed for emergency distribution of vaccine; health care workers expected to get first doses.
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A week after the rollout of the nation's first vaccine for Covid-19, a second one is now getting packed up to be distributed throughout the U.S. this week.

The shot created by Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna  (MRNA) - Get Moderna, Inc. Report got an OK over the weekend from an advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use in Americans age 18 and older. 

“Since we began this journey in January, our goal has always been to protect as many people as possible,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna's CEO in a press statement over the weekend, adding that the CDC advisory group's recommendation for the shot "is another step forward in our quest to address this devastating pandemic with a vaccine."

As with the vaccine by Pfizer  (PFE) - Get Pfizer Inc. Report and BioNTech  (BNTX) - Get BioNTech SE Report distributed last week, Moderna's shot is expected to go first to health care workers in the nation's hospitals now battling a massive surge in cases, and then likely to other essential workers.

“Health care workers have been on the front lines of the fight against the virus and are an inspiration to us all. We look forward to vaccinations of this important population starting this week,” said Bancel.

The CDC endorsement comes after an emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration late last week

Moderna's stock closed down about $3.77 Friday on the Nasdaq to $140.23, but rose after hours by around $3.14.

Around 20 million doses of the shot are expected to be delivered by the end of December, and Moderna says it expects to have between 100 million and 125 million doses available worldwide during the first quarter of next year. Up to 100 million of those doses could be available in the U.S. 

As with the Pfizer shot, each person requires two doses, meaning 20 million doses is enough to vaccinate 10 million people.

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The apparent success of this so-called messenger-RNA-based vaccine – and the similar one by Pfizer – could mark an advance for other future vaccines and therapies, say experts.

“This is great news for the vaccinology field,” said Sophie Valkenburg, a research assistant professor at Hong Kong University’s Pasteur Research Pole, in an email to TheStreet late last week, just as Moderna's shot was expected to get OK'd. “As mRNA vaccines can stimulate both antibody and T-cell arms of the immune system, it could be great news for improving influenza vaccines, if the right virus parts are included in the design. The future looks good for mRNA vaccines.”

But she cautioned that the apparent high efficacy of these two Covid-19 shots may be attributable to the particulars of this coronavirus, and effectiveness my be different in other vaccines and viruses.

Valkenburg, who is studying how to make a new type of Covid-19 antibody test, added that the immunity for the novel coronavirus could prove short lasting for these new Covid-19 vaccines and people may need to be get vaccinated regularly, as they do for the common flu.

In addition, she said, she expects the nearly 18 million Americans who've already been diagnosed with Covid-19 will also likely need to be vaccinated, despite having had a prior infection, making the goal of so-called “herd immunity” a far-off effort.

"I think everyone that should be vaccinated should be. Reinfection is already happening at six months," she said.

"I expect we may need to be revaccinated every few years to reduce the impact of Covid-19. Other vaccines are still needed and different vaccine formats have different advantages in cost, stability and the immune responses they will stimulate for long term reduced disease.”

Another expert, however, Dr. Otto O. Yang, a veteran infectious disease expert and medical doctor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, had earlier told TheStreet that it's possible that the vaccines could end up providing longer-lasting immunity than natural infection by the coronavirus, which scientists believe may be short-lived.

Still, Yang told TheStreet last week, after the Pfizer rollout began, that to prevent a worsening of the pandemic, people will need to “adhere to other prevention strategies like masks and distancing” for a long while.