FDA staff endorses emergency use of Moderna’s Covid vaccine in a critical step toward approval

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Tony Potts, a 69-year-old retiree living in Ormond Beach, receives his first injection as a participant in a Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial sponsored by Moderna at Accel Research Sites on August 4, 2020 in DeLand, Florida.

Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The staff of the Food and Drug Administration endorsed the emergency use of Moderna‘s coronavirus vaccine in a report released Tuesday, a critical step forward in winning formal clearance to be administered to the public as early as next.

It comes two days before the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, a group of outside medical advisors, is scheduled to review Moderna’s vaccine. The group recommended Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use last Thursday, and the FDA approved it for emergency use the next day.

The FDA determined that the clinical trial results and safety data were “consistent with the recommendations set forth in FDA’s Guidance on Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19,” the staff wrote. “FDA has determined that the Sponsor has provided adequate information to ensure the vaccine’s quality and consistency for authorization of the product under an EUA.”

The FDA said it recommends tracking cases of Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes a sudden freezing or weakness in facial muscles, if the vaccine is cleared for use. The agency said there were three cases in the vaccine group and one in the placebo group. “Currently available information is insufficient to determine a causal relationship with the vaccine,” the agency wrote.

The most common side effects were pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills, the FDA said, adding more severe reactions were more common after the second dose.

Moderna submitted its Covid vaccine data to the FDA on Nov. 30. It said a final analysis of its phase three clinical trial, with 30,000 participants, found the vaccine was more than 94% effective in preventing Covid, was safe and appeared to fend off severe disease. Its vaccine uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. It’s a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response.

The documents published offer a glimpse of the FDA’s view of the vaccine.

If the FDA OK’s the vaccine, it would be the second one approved for use in the U.S. behind Pfizer’s. Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for President Donald Trump’s vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Monday that the U.S. plans to ship just under 6 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine once the FDA issues an approval for emergency use.

Such an authorization isn’t the same as a full approval, which can typically take months. Moderna, like Pfizer, has only submitted two months of follow-up safety data, but the agency usually requires six months for full approval. Pfizer’s vaccine was authorized for people 16 and older.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna has said its vaccine remains stable at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator, for up to 30 days. It can be stored for up to six months at negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

CNBC’s Will Feuer and Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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