Markets shatter all-time records as new vaccine is ‘94.5 per cent effective’

The S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average have notched record closing highs on news of another promising vaccine fanning hopes of eradicating COVID-19 as spiking infections threaten to hobble recovery.

Nov 17, 2020, updated Nov 17, 2020
Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks speaks during an interview at the company headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moderna said  its COVID-19 vaccination is 94.5 per cent effective. (Photo: AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi)

Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks speaks during an interview at the company headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moderna said its COVID-19 vaccination is 94.5 per cent effective. (Photo: AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi)

All three major US stock indexes advanced on Monday and with its new closing record, the blue-chip Dow is the last of the three to reclaim levels reached in February, before lockdowns sent the markets into free-fall. The Russell 2000 also hit an all-time closing high.

Moderna Inc said its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5 per cent effective in preventing infection based on interim late-state data.

It was the second drugmaker in as many weeks, after Pfizer Inc, to announce promising trial data in the development of a vaccine to defeat the pandemic. Combined, pending further data and regulatory review, the United States could have as many as 60 million emergency doses available this year.

In Australia, the ASX was up 15 points after earlier breaking through the 6500-point barrier.

The CBA said the market was up 9.4 per cent for November, which was the best performance since March 1988.

Among the big price gains today were Unibail, which rose 16 per cent.

Corporate Travel Management broke through the $20 barrier and is now trading at the same level as January. Flight Centre was also up 2.4 per cent to $16.48. New Peak Metals was up 16 per cent and Coronado Coal was up 5.8 per cent.

US pharmaceutical firm Moderna has reported early analysis suggesting its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective, making it the second group to announce positive results from a large-scale clinical trial.

The results are in the same league as those announced last week by drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech, which say their jointly-developed vaccine is 90-per-cent effective in preventing COVID-19.

“This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate,” Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel in a statement on Monday.

“Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible.”

Based on the results, Moderna said it would apply to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorisation in the coming weeks.

Similar applications will be made to other drug safety authorities worldwide.

The company expects it can have 20 million doses of the vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, ready by year’s end for shipment within the US and between 500 million and 1 billion doses for global distribution in 2021.

According to the World Health Organisation the news is “quite encouraging” but more data is needed, chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.

Trial participants need to be monitored for two more months for possible side effects, she told a press conference in Geneva.

“There are many questions still remaining” about the Moderna product and about Pfizer’s rival vaccine candidate that has also shown to be very effective in trials, Swaminathan said.

More needs to be known about how long these vaccines protect against the novel coronavirus, to what extent they prevent severe cases of COVID-19 disease and what impact they have on elderly people, she said.

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Like the BioNTech/Pfizer venture, Moderna’s approach to stopping the pandemic – which has claimed at least 1.3 million lives since jumping into human hosts about a year ago – relies on genetic editing to create an organism that will prompt an immune system response to the virus.

Unlike the other venture, Moderna’s research was supported by the White House’s Operation Warp Speed program, which means the US government can claim responsibility for helping push the project along.

There has been no official White House response yet, though Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, heralded the discovery in an interview with CNN.

“It’s just as good as it gets – 94.5 per cent is truly outstanding.”

More than 30,000 people took part in the Moderna study.

The study results were based on results in a placebo group and in a second group two weeks after its members received a second dose of the vaccine.

In all, researchers discovered 95 individuals who developed COVID-19. Of those 90 were in the placebo group. Eleven of the COVID-19 cases were ranked as severe, again, all in the placebo group.

“Preliminary analysis suggests a broadly consistent safety and efficacy profile across all evaluated subgroups,” read a statement.

In another good sign, the company said it should be able to keep mRNA-1273 stable for 30 days at between 2 and 8 degrees, which could be possible with distribution techniques.

Initial research from Pfizer showed its vaccine had to be stored at -70 degrees for long-term storage, which would be a logistical challenge, especially in the developing world.

The European Commission is already negotiating with Moderna to supply up to 160 million doses.

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