Pfizer, Moderna, Coronavac, Sputnik V, AstraZeneca? Learn the Difference Between the Vaccines
Mass vaccination is not a new thing in human history, but this time there are two things making this situation truly unique.
1st — Never a vaccine was developed so fast. Before the COVID-19 immunizer, the fastest developed vaccine ever was against Mumps. And it took four years until its release to commercial usage.
2nd — Multiple types of vaccinations will be (or already were) released in parallel. We witnessed an incredible race between laboratories, universities, and entire countries. This is only comparable to the space race between URSS and the USA.
Distinct entities developed simultaneously (and independently) these drugs. Entities including Russian state-sponsored laboratories, British universities, and American Corporations. With such a diversity of stakeholders, questions arise about which vaccine to trust, or why certain countries are using the vaccine X instead of Y.
In this article, we will expose the main differences between the 5 vaccines in the most advanced stages of release. And what you should know (or fear, if you are suspicious of something) about each of them.
BNT162b2 — Developed by BioNTech, Fosun Pharma, and Pfizer
Used technology: mRNA. The BNT162b2, also known as Pfizer Vaccine, is an RNA vaccine. That means it uses messenger RNAs (mRNA).
This is a technology completely different from all vaccines created so far. In the history of humankind, no mRNA vaccine, drug, or technology platform, had ever been approved for use in humans.
Most of the vaccines “train” our body to fight infections by using modified or inactive versions of the virus, or purified proteins that help our immune system to create antibodies to defeat the infection.
This is not what the mRNA technology does. Instead of receiving a modified version of the virus, the patient receives genetic material that encodes the viral protein. In other words: it gives an upgrade to your genetic code.
Developed by: The German laboratory Biontech developed the vaccine, using funds from Germany and the European Union. Pfizer, an American multinational, provided the logistics and oversaw the clinical trials.
Current stage: Approved in two countries (as per 06/12/2020), in test phase 3 — the last stage — in others.
Countries that are using it: UK and Bahrain already authorized the mass usage. Vaccination starts in December.
Criticisms: There are 3 main criticisms about the Pfizer vaccine, which are valid also for the other mRNA vaccines.
1st — We never used mRNA technology for vaccine or drug production before. Even world-famous scientists like Peter Hotez are cautious about it.
2nd — It changes our genetic code. And it is quite difficult for external agents (outside of the development team) to verify the changes made by the vaccine in the long term. Especially considering, as mentioned above, that this technology was never used before.
3rd — It needs to be stored at very, very low temperatures. We are talking about -70 degrees celsius. Very few countries in the world have such cold logistical networks. This necessity alone turns unviable the usage of mRNA vaccines in countries with poor infrastructure.
AZD1222 — Developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca
Used technology: Modified chimpanzee adenovirus vector. That means the vaccine, also known as Oxford Vaccine, uses a virus originated from monkeys that have the same spike protein from the COVID-19 virus. But since this virus does not replicate in humans, it does not cause infections, only stimulating the immune response.
Developed by: The Oxford University, from England, and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Current stage: Test phase 3.
Countries that are using it: While no country is already using the vaccine for mass campaigns, Switzerland was one of the first nations to place orders of it, followed by Brazil.
Criticisms: The criticisms are centered on the fact that the vaccine rushed the test phases. Partially financed by billionaires like Bill Gates, there is an argument about how much of this rush is motivated by the potential profit of selling the vaccine. The tests also had a varied range of success — success being the immune response against COVID-19 — from 62% to 90%.
On the other hand, differently than the other vaccines, the Oxford vaccine does not require super-low temperatures, but rather normal refrigerator levels.
Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) — Developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute
Used technology: Replicating viral (adenovirus) vector. The Sputnik V uses the adenovirus (which causes the common cold) fused with the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 to stimulate an immune response. It is a very similar method to the one used by the Oxford vaccine, mentioned above. That similarity resulted in rumors that the Sputnik V was developed after hackers steal the AstraZeneca formula.
Developed by: The Russian institute Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology
Current stage: Approved in Russia.
Countries that are using it: Russia, which already vaccinated over 100 000 high-risk citizens by 05/12/2020. Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and India, among other countries, have shown interest in purchasing it.
Criticisms: The main criticism of the Sputnik V vaccination relates to the rushed clinical trials. In an emblematic moment, during an online meeting, the Russian president Vladimir Putin told the deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova:
I understand that you’re using very careful language and it’s absolutely right that we are cautious. But I know that industry and the (health) network are in general ready. Let’s take this first step.
mRNA-1273 — Developed by Moderna, NIAID, and BARDA
Used technology: mRNA. The same technology used by the Pfizer vaccine.
Developed by: The American company Moderna, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The two last are part of the US Department of Health and Human Services
Current stage: Test Phase 3 concluded. Waiting for approval in the US, the UK, and Europe.
Countries that are using it: The United States, Europe, and Canada all wrote purchase agreements for the Moderna vaccine.
Criticisms: The same as for the Pfizer vaccine. Additionally, Moderna CEO and other executives made large sales of their shareholdings after the company announced the vaccine, raising questions about non-disclosed information.
CoronaVac — Developed by Sinovac
Used technology: Inactivated SARS-CoV-2. This (inactivated virus) is the most common technology for vaccine production.
Developed by: The Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.
Current stage: Vaccination started in a few countries.
Countries that are using it: Vaccination started in China and the United Arab Emirates, Vaccine approved in Turkey and Indonesia, both countries now waiting for the final logistical arrangements. Waiting for approval in Brazil. Test Phase 3 in other countries.
Criticisms: The suicide of a volunteer during the trial phase in Brazil raised questions about the possible mental effects of the vaccine. While the vaccine is one of the few that does not need to be stored at very cold temperatures or applied within a few days after fabrication, there are issues related to the laboratory Sinovac. The Chinese laboratory, in the past, bribed authorities to approve their vaccines.
While the vaccination campaigns are already starting in more and more countries, there are serious questions related to the logistics. Vaccines like the developed by Pfizer or Moderna need cold-chain logistics that are nonexistent in most of the world, especially in sub-developed countries.
Another matter for debate relates to the choice between mandatory or voluntary vaccination. While most countries, like Poland — where I live — are opting for voluntary campaigns, some leaders like the governor of Sao Paulo state in Brazil defend mandatory campaigns.
What is your opinion? Would you take any of the COVID-19 vaccines? If yes, which one would you take? Are you in favor of mandatory or voluntary vaccination campaigns?