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FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Second COVID-19 Vaccine


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On December 18, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the second vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2. The emergency use authorization allows the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine to be distributed in the United States for use in individuals aged 18 years and older.

“With the availability of two vaccines now for the prevention of COVID-19, the FDA has taken another crucial step in the fight against this global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States each day,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD. “Through the FDA’s open and transparent scientific review process, two COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized in an expedited timeframe while adhering to the rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support EUA that the American people have come to expect from the FDA. These standards and our review process, which are the same we have used in reviewing the first COVID-19 vaccine and intend to use for any other COVID-19 vaccines, included input from independent scientific and public health experts as well as a thorough analysis of the data by the agency’s career staff.”

Stephen M. Hahn, MD

Stephen M. Hahn, MD

The FDA has determined that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has met the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA. The totality of the available data provides clear evidence that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19. The data also show that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks—supporting the company’s request for the vaccine’s use in people aged 18 and older.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine contains messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein. After a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.   

“Guided by science and data, the agency’s career staff determined that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits clearly outweigh its known and potential risks, and although not an FDA approval, the FDA’s expectations described in our June and October guidance documents have been met,” said Peter Marks, MD, PhD, Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “[This] authorization demonstrates our steadfast commitment to the health of the American people, with the assurance that our scientific standards and the integrity of our review process have been maintained. This achievement is yet another testament to the dedication of FDA’s career scientists and physicians, who have been working urgently to conduct comprehensive and rigorous evaluations of the data submitted for vaccines to prevent COVID-19.”

Peter Marks, MD, PhD

Peter Marks, MD, PhD

FDA Evaluation of Available Safety Data

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is administered as a series of two doses 1 month apart. The available safety data to support the EUA include an analysis of 30,351 participants enrolled in an ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted in the United States. These participants, 15,185 of whom received the vaccine and 15,166 of whom received saline placebo, were followed for a median of more than 2 months after receiving the second dose. The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose. 

It is mandatory for ModernaTX, Inc, and vaccination providers to report the following to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine: all vaccine administration errors, serious adverse events, cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.

FDA Evaluation of Available Effectiveness Data 

The effectiveness data to support the EUA include an analysis of 28,207 participants in the ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled U.S. study who did not have evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection prior to the first dose of vaccine. Among these participants, 14,134 received the vaccine and 14,073 received placebo. The vaccine was 94.1% effective in preventing COVID-19 among these clinical trial participants, with 11 cases of COVID-19 in the vaccine group and 185 in the placebo group. At the time of the analysis, of these 196 COVID-19 cases, none in the vaccine group and 30 in the placebo group were classified as severe. After the analysis of these 196 cases was completed, 1 severe case in the vaccine group was identified and is awaiting confirmation. At this time, data are not available to determine how long the vaccine will provide protection, nor is there evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person. 

The EUA Process

On the basis of the determination by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on February 4, 2020, that there is a public health emergency with a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of U.S. citizens living abroad, and then issued declarations that  circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of unapproved products, the FDA may issue an EUA to allow unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent COVID-19 when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives. 

The issuance of an EUA is different from an FDA approval (licensure) of a vaccine. In determining whether to issue an EUA for a product, the FDA evaluates the available evidence and assesses any known or potential risks and any known or potential benefits; if the benefit-risk assessment is favorable, the product is made available during the emergency. Once a manufacturer submits an EUA request for a COVID-19 vaccine to the FDA, the agency then evaluates the request and determines whether the relevant statutory criteria are met, taking into account the totality of the scientific evidence about the vaccine that is available to the FDA.

The EUA also requires that fact sheets that provide important information, including dosing instructions and information about the benefits and risks of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, be made available to vaccination providers and vaccine recipients.

ModernaTX, Inc. has submitted a pharmacovigilance plan to the FDA to monitor the safety of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The pharmacovigilance plan includes a plan to complete longer-term safety follow-up for participants enrolled in ongoing clinical trials, and also includes other activities aimed at monitoring the safety profile of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and ensuring that any safety concerns are identified and evaluated in a timely manner. 

The FDA also expects manufacturers whose COVID-19 vaccines are authorized under an EUA to continue their clinical trials to obtain additional safety and effectiveness information and pursue approval (licensure).

The EUA for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was issued to ModernaTX, Inc. The authorization will be effective until the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of the emergency use of drugs and biologics for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 is terminated. The EUA for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine may be revised or revoked if it is determined the EUA no longer meets the statutory criteria for issuance.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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