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Moderna COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use in US

This follows the authorization of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine last week.

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Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine has received emergency use authorization.

Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has been given emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration. The decision came through Friday evening, making Moderna's the second coronavirus vaccine approved for emergency use in the United States.

"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 Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner. "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."

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine: Hidden costs, where to get it, vaccination cards, more

The OK follows an FDA advisory panel backing Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, on Thursday. The vaccine, said to be 94% effective, could begin being administered as soon as next week. The advisory panel's recommendation, which came from an independent group of experts known as the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, came a week after the backing and subsequent authorization of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

Moderna applied for FDA emergency approval late last month. Both Moderna's and Pfizer's vaccines are experimental RNA vaccines. They use synthetic messenger RNA, or mRNA, a molecule that tells cells how to build proteins. They can then trick cells into producing proteins typically found in SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This in turn stimulates the immune system, without making patients sick, to protect against infection.

Unlike Pfizer's vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, Moderna's can be stored between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 30 days, making it more easily accessible. US officials reportedly said earlier this week that they planned to ship around 6 million doses of Moderna's vaccine once FDA emergency use authorization was granted.

Health care workers, who are among the people prioritized to get vaccinated, have already started receiving the Pfizer vaccine, which the pharmaceutical giant said demonstrated 95% effectiveness in clinical trials.

In a panel last week, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the sooner the US can convince the overwhelming majority of people to get vaccinated, the sooner things will be "close to normal."

And experts say it's critical to continue wearing a mask and to practice social distancing until enough Americans get vaccinated, which is still several months away.

There are several dozen coronavirus vaccines in various stages of clinical trials, with some almost ready to be submitted for potential authorization. Most specialists say we'll have many more ready to distribute by early next year.

The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in China a year ago this month. By March, a pandemic was in full force. According to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard, over 74 million cases have been confirmed worldwide and more than 1.6 million people have died from COVID-19 as of Thursday.

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