LONDON — Drugmakers and research centers are scrambling to deliver a safe and effective vaccine to help bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.3 million lives worldwide.
Two Covid-19 vaccines have been found to be highly effective in late-stage trials in recent days, boosting optimism at a time when health systems in Europe and the U.S. are once again being pushed to breaking point.
Huge challenges remain before a vaccine can be rolled out, however. The global battle to secure prospective supplies has raised alarm about equitable access, while questions remain over logistics, distribution, and, perhaps most significantly, cost.
International aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), for example, has expressed concern about pharmaceutical companies holding the power to decide who gets access to a vaccine, when, and at what price.
CNBC takes a look at some of the leading coronavirus vaccine candidates.
U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna said Monday that preliminary clinical trial data showed its vaccine was more than 94% effective in preventing Covid-19. It consists of two injections four weeks apart.
The news came one week after Pfizer and BioNTech found a similar level of efficacy in their vaccine. Both use messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. It's a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response.
Moderna said its vaccine candidate 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.
In August, Moderna said it was charging between $32 and $37 per dose for its vaccine for some customers. At the time, the company said it was in discussion for larger volume agreements that would have a lower price.
Nonetheless, the figures are significantly higher than the cost of other vaccines. The United Nations' Covax facility will subsidize rollouts of coronavirus vaccines to low-income countries but, at the price previously quoted, it may prove too costly for some.
Moderna has said it expects to have roughly 20 million doses of the vaccine ready to ship to the U.S. by the end of the year and remains on track to manufacture between 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.
It has committed to supply the U.S. with 100 million doses of its vaccine. Canada has ordered 56 million doses, the U.K. has bought 50 million, and Switzerland has procured 4.5 million, according to data compiled by researchers at Duke University's Global Health Innovation Centre.
Pfizer and BioNTech said last week an early analysis of their vaccine candidate showed it was over 90% effective in preventing coronavirus infections. It consists of two injections 21 days apart.
Unlike Moderna's vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and requires special storage equipment and transportation. This could make it very difficult for some countries to distribute.
The vaccine can be kept in a regular fridge for five days.
Pfizer and BioNTech reportedly plan to load suitcase-sized boxes from distribution sites in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Puurs, Belgium, onto as many as two dozen trucks per day, allowing for the daily transit of roughly 7.6 million doses to nearby airports.
Pfizer on Tuesday launched a pilot delivery program for its experimental vaccine in Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee. The plan, Pfizer said, was to try to address distribution challenges regarding its ultra-cold storage requirements.
The companies are reportedly charging $20 per dose for its vaccine, significantly lower than Moderna.
Pfizer and BioNTech have secured agreements with several countries across the globe. The European Union has ordered the most, with 300 million doses confirmed as of Nov. 11, Japan has agreed to procure 120 million, and the U.S. has bought 100 million.
The U.K., Canada, Australia and Chile have all bought at least 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is developing its potential Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford. Data from late-stage trials should be made available before the end of the year.
AstraZeneca said late last month that its vaccine candidate had produced a similar immune response in older and younger adults, and adverse responses to the vaccine among the elderly were also found to be lower.
Earlier this month, the British duo said it was keeping its vaccine frozen in large containers. It is expected to add a final ingredient to its vials enabling them to be kept at regular fridge temperature when the vaccine nears regulatory approval, Reuters reported.
The vaccine candidate has secured a number of substantial deals with several countries. The U.S. and India have both agreed to procure 500 million doses, the EU has reached a deal to buy 400 million, and the Covax facility has ordered 300 million.
The U.K., Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, and Latin America excluding Brazil have all confirmed orders of at least 100 million doses.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which requires two doses, is priced at approximately $3 to $4, according to the Financial Times, citing supply deals agreed through to Oct. 7.
The company has said the vaccine will be delivered at a price of no profit, regardless of where in the world it is being delivered, "as long as all these orders have been taken in the next few weeks and months."
Medecins Sans Frontieres highlighted that while AstraZeneca had committed not to profit from the vaccine it is developing with Oxford "during the pandemic," the firm had given itself the power to charge higher prices as soon as July next year.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Nov. 5 that the firm will "treat the development of the vaccine as a response to a global public health emergency and not a commercial opportunity."
"We have committed to providing the vaccine on a global basis at no profit for the duration of the pandemic. That means that all existing supply agreements will be conducted on this basis," Soriot said.
Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is a one-dose shot using technology based on the development and production of adenovirus vectors, or gene carriers. Similar technologies were used to develop and manufacture the company's Ebola vaccine.
A 60,000-person single-shot clinical trial was launched in September, although it has since signed an agreement with the British government for a separate two-dose clinical trial.
J&J has reportedly said that if results of the single-shot trial are positive, it could simplify the distribution of millions of doses, potentially gaining an advantage over some of its leading rivals that require two doses.
J&J's vaccine requires basic refrigeration for storage and is thought to cost around $10 a dose.
The EU has ordered 200 million doses of the vaccine candidate. Meanwhile, the U.S. has procured orders of 100 million, Canada has agreed to buy 38 million and the U.K. has ordered 30 million.
— CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr. & Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.