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Data: CDC, Moderna and Pfizer; Note: Flu vaccine based on yearly average from 2009-2019. Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccine efficacy based on early clinical trial data. Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The leading coronavirus vaccines are shaping up to be on par with some of the most effective vaccines in medicine.

Why it matters: Vaccines with efficacy rates of about 95% — which both Pfizer and Moderna say they've achieved — will be more powerful weapons against the coronavirus than many experts had anticipated.

Flashback: The Food and Drug Administration initially set the bar for a COVID-19 vaccine at 50% efficacy, roughly in line with the seasonal flu vaccine.

  • Some scientists had hoped, in a best-case scenario, it might be as much as 70% effective.
  • “We don’t know yet what the efficacy might be. We don’t know if it will be 50% or 60%. I’d like it to be 75% or more,” the NIH's Anthony Fauci said in August.

But coming in closer to 95% would put Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines more in line with the highly effective inoculations against measles, mumps and rubella.

  • Like the MMR and polio vaccines, both prospective COVID-19 products would require two shots to reach that level of efficacy.
  • The third leading contender, being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, would also require two shots. Johnson & Johnson is testing both a single-dose and a two-dose vaccine in simultaneous phase 3 trials.

Yes, but: There's still a lot we don't know about these vaccines, including how well they're likely to work among various demographic groups, and how long the immunity they confer will last.

Go deeper

13 hours ago - Health

Key information about the effective COVID-19 vaccines

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is ramping up, with three major candidates now reporting efficacy rates of more than 90%.

Why it matters: Health experts say the world can't fully return to normal until a coronavirus vaccine is widely distributed. But each potential vaccine has its own nuances, and it's likely that multiple vaccines will be needed in order to supply enough doses for universal vaccination.

Dave Lawler, author of World
10 hours ago - World

Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries

Waiting, in New Delhi. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

While the 95% efficacy rates for the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are great news for the U.S. and Europe, Monday's announcement from Oxford and AstraZeneca may be far more significant for the rest of the world.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca plan to distribute their vaccine at cost (around $3-4 per dose), and have already committed to providing over 1 billion doses to the developing world. The price tags are higher for the Pfizer ($20) and Moderna ($32-37) vaccines.

8 hours ago - Podcasts

Bob Nelsen on AstraZeneca and his plan to revolutionize biotech

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday reported promising efficacy data for their COVID-19 vaccine, which has less stringent storage requirements than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and may be distributed earlier in developing countries.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of vaccine and therapeutics manufacturing with Bob Nelsen, a successful biotech investor who on Monday launched Resilience, a giant new pharma production platform that he believes will prepare America for its next major health challenges.