The Federal Confederation has recently announced that it has signed a pre-sale contract for a Covid-19 vaccine with the biotech company, Moderna. If the vaccine succeeds in the test phase and once licensed for the Swiss market, the country will be able to receive 4.5 million doses. Switzerland is one of the first countries to guarantee a contract with the US-based company.
Why is this important? In the absence of effective treatment, vaccinating the population remains the best way to stop the Covid-19 pandemic in its tracks. While more than 70 vaccine candidates are already in the development phase, Moderna's is among the most advanced. Largely supported financially by Swiss investors in its early days, the American company has forged a collaboration with the Swiss group Lonza which could lead to the production of one billion doses per year at the company’s facilities in Visp (Valais) and Portsmouth (United States).
The “diversified strategy” employed by the Federal Government aims to increase the chances of obtaining an effective vaccine to fight the pandemic. Alongside its contract with Moderna, it is also holding discussions with other laboratories for access to the future vaccine — though the exact details remain secret.
Switzerland is not the only country to employ such a strategy. The United States has already committed more than $ 6 billion in pre-orders for developing vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca, as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech alliance.
Many countries, such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy, have also made similar pre-orders for a vaccine that is also being tested in phase III from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
The price. The Federal Council has allocated a total of 300 million francs for the purchase of vaccines against Covid-19. The exact amount of the trade agreement between Switzerland and Moderna is yet unknown, but with the price of the vaccine having been announced between 32 and 37 CHF, we can estimate it at around 150 million francs, which is half of the budget allocated by the Confederation.
The price per dose indicated by Moderna is lower than expected because of the pandemic situation — it could even be further reduced for orders of larger volumes. However, even taking this into account, the price charged by Moderna is expected to remain higher than the $19.50 per dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine (under an agreement with the US government) and even higher than the estimated $3-4 per dose for AstraZeneca-Oxford's vaccine pre-ordered by Europeans.
Preliminary results. Moderna’s vaccine — a new technology using messenger RNAs — has yet to prove its effectiveness on a large scale. Based on data made public this far:
In humans, phase 1 trials (on a small group of subjects) have shown that with a two-dose vaccination schedule, the vaccine induces a high level of neutralizing antibodies against Sars-CoV-2
In animals, a trial on 24 macaque monkeys unveiled in July showed that the vaccine succeeds in lowering the viral load in the nose, which is crucial to effectively prevent infection
But beware of false hopes: vaccine development is always a gamble, and serious things have just started. It is still necessary to demonstrate the efficacy on a large scale and ensure that reactions to the vaccine are benign in the vast majority of cases.
On July 25, Moderna began recruiting 30,000 participants for its phase 3 clinical trial, which will take place in the United States. The laboratory hopes to get the first results before winter, at least for high-risk patients.