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Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. Source: Moderna
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  • New data from biotech giant Moderna suggests its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine becomes less effective over time, supporting the case for booster shots
  • The company says an analysis of its clinical trial shows breakthrough infection was less likely in those jabbed 8 months ago compared to 13 months ago
  • CEO Stéphane Bancel says it is promising to see evidence supporting the effectiveness of the jab, but booster shots could ensure people stay protected
  • Moderna says it expects to sell between 800 million and one billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 to drive annual revenue of US$20 billion
  • Moderna submitted an application to the FDA to authorise its booster shot on September

New clinical trial data from biotech giant Moderna suggests its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine becomes less effective over time, supporting the case for booster shots.

The company announced this week that an analysis of its third-phase COVE study shows that while the vaccine continues to prove “highly effective” against COVID-19, there was a lower risk of breakthrough infection among trial participants who were vaccinated more recently.

The analysis showed 88 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 occurred in patients vaccinated around eight months ago and 162 breakthrough cases in patients vaccinated last year.

This equates to 49 cases per 1000 person-years for the more-recently-jabbed group and 77.1 cases per 1000-person years for the latter group.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said it was promising to see clinical and real-world evidence supporting the effectiveness of the Moderna vaccine, but the findings suggest booster shots could ensure people stay protected.

“The increased risk of breakthrough infections in COVE study participants who were vaccinated last year compared to more recently illustrates the impact of waning immunity and supports the need for a booster to maintain high levels of protection,” Mr Bancel said.

“We hope these findings are helpful as health authorities and regulators continue to assess strategies for ending this pandemic.”

Effective protection, effective revenue

The sale of Moderna vaccines has bolstered the pharmaceutical giant’s financial position significantly over the past 12 months.

According to Moderna’s most recent financial report, the company tabled US$4.4 billion (A$6 billion) in revenue over the June quarter of 2021 — an increase of more than 6500 per cent compared to the US$67 million (A$91.3 million) in revenue from the same time period in 2020.

Total revenue for the first six months of 2021 was US$6.3 billion (A$8.6 million) compared to US$75 million (A$102 million) over the same time in 2020.

Moderna said the sale of COVID-19 vaccines was the primary driver of the major revenue boost, alone accounting for almost US$6 billion (A$8.2 billion) of half-yearly revenue. Grant revenue also helped but to a lesser extent, according to Moderna.

The revenue result has more-than-doubled Moderna’s cash position in six months, with the company ending the June quarter with US$12.2 billion (A$16.6 billion) on hand compared to the US$5.2 billion (A$7 billion) on hand at the end of December 2020.

For the full year, Moderna said it expected to sell between 800 million and one billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 to drive annual revenue of US$20 billion (A$27 billion).

The company has not yet forecast how much extra revenue its booster shots might provide.

Booster shot debate

Moderna’s latest clinical trial data follows similar findings from Pfizer and BioNTech over their own COVID-19 vaccine.

Nevertheless, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been hesitant to authorise booster shots in the States given millions of people in low-income countries are still waiting for their first jabs.

In August, World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a moratorium on booster shots until at least 10 per cent of every country’s population was vaccinated.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last month it was considering giving booster shots to severely immunocompromised people in the States, but it was not recommending booster shots for the wider population.

Moderna submitted an application to the FDA to authorise its booster shot on September 1.

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