What’s the difference between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

As we wait for the FDA’s emergency use authorization of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, we take a look at the differences between it and Pfizer’s already approved vaccine.
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 3:29 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (12/18/2020) - A second COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be authorized soon for emergency use.

Approval of the Moderna vaccine would create an even bigger impact in the fight against coronavirus, just one week after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use.

So what’s the difference between the two vaccines?

“If both were available to me this morning at the hospital, I wouldn’t, you know, I might as well just pick randomly,” Dr. Bobby Mukkamala said.

Dr. Mukkamala is a longtime Flint Doctor, now also serving as the President of the Michigan State Medical Society.

He received his COVID-19 vaccine Friday morning at Hurley Medical Center.

“At most, I would expect a day of a little bit of achiness as that immune reaction builds up to the antigens that are in the virus itself. But yeah, definitely a heck of a lot better than getting sick,” he said.

The side effects possible after getting the Pfizer vaccine are similar to how you might feel after receiving the Moderna one -- fatigue, pain at the injection site, or you could have a mild fever or headache.

Both vaccines are also mRNA based, which means ...

“So, this particular protein, this segment of mRNA, encodes one part of the actual virus itself. So then I have antibodies to that part. So then, when somebody with the virus sneezes on me, you know, God forbid next month, instead of me getting sick, my immune system has the antibodies that recognize that little piece and then immediately sort of engulf it and get it out of circulation so that it doesn’t make me sick,” Dr. Mukkamala explained.

As for differences:

  • You have to get a second dose of each vaccine, but the time between doses differs by one week. It’s 3 weeks apart for the Pfizer vaccine and 4 weeks apart for the Moderna vaccine.
  • How effective they’ve been proven to be is very similar is just a 0.5% difference.
  • Both need to be stored at freezing temperatures, but Pfizer’s vaccine is -80 to -60 degrees, compared to Moderna’s at -25 to -15 degrees.
  • And the Pfizer vaccine can only remain stable for 5 days out of storage and in a refrigerator, while Moderna’s will last for up to 30 days.
  • Pfizer’s is approved for anyone 16 and older, while you have to be at least 18 to get Moderna’s vaccine.

“There’s somebody on the social media feed that said I wouldn’t take that vaccine for a million dollars, right? And, there’s no getting through to that person,” Dr. Mukkamala said. “But thankfully, that person will be protected when the 70% of people that he encounters have been vaccinated and they’re not shedding that virus on him. And he’ll survive this, despite that skepticism because of the willingness and generosity and compassion that other people have around him.”

Dr. Mukkamala added he’s also heard questions from people concerned about how fast the vaccines were developed.

He said the reason it took months, instead of years isn’t because they cut corners, they just went around them at a higher speed.

For example, instead of operating eight hours a day and shutting down overnight, labs around the country were up and running 24 hours a day.

He said the vaccines were made with the same science and approval process as something as simple as a tetanus or flu shot and that’s why they should be trusted.

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