How Atlanta doctors helped Moderna achieve promising results in COVID-19 vaccine

ATLANTA — Moderna announced Monday promising early results of its COVID-19 vaccine, showing a 94.5% effectiveness against the virus.

A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its coronavirus vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

“That should give us all hope that actually, a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully, get us back to our lives,” said Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge.

Atlanta had a major role to play in testing Moderna’s vaccine. There is still more testing to do, but local doctors are optimistic about the vaccine’s potential.

Emory University was part of the first clinical trial for the vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna.

Earlier this summer, the study began with 30,000 volunteers helping to test shots.

One of those volunteers was Rodney Milton.

“It’s incredible,” Milton told Channel 2′s Tom Regan.


Volunteers didn’t know if they were getting the real shot or a dummy version. After two doses, scientists closely tracked which group experienced more infections as they went about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus still is spreading unchecked.

Milton said finding out that the study showed overwhelming effectiveness was reassuring to him, especially for African Americans who may be more averse to taking a vaccine or participating in a study.

“This was going to be particularly challenging to buy into. That was the reason I did it. So to know the results are promising is really encouraging,” Milton said.

Moderna said the vaccination was done in Savannah, Georgia, the first site to get underway among more than seven dozen trial sites scattered around the country.

“The press release this morning reports 94.5% efficacy, which is better than we ever could’ve hoped for with only mild to moderate side effects. Now the trial will continue to collect safety and efficacy data. The company has stated that they anticipate submitting a EUA to the FDA in the next few weeks and hopefully to have a vaccine available by the end of the year,” said Emory Dr. Colleen Kelley.

The main side effects were fatigue, muscle aches and injection-site pain after the vaccine’s second dose, at rates that Hoge characterized as more common than with flu shots but on par with others such as the shingles vaccine.

The strong results were a surprise. Scientists have warned for months that any COVID-19 shot may be only as good as flu vaccines, which are about 50% effective.

“It was an astonishing speed for a vaccine. Not only was it fast, we now know that it' working with this early look at data as far as safety and efficacy,” said Dr. Nadine Rouphael with Emory University.

Emory University said it tested some 700 volunteers out of the 30,000 nationwide.

“This is a great day for science and a great day for hope that we will see the end of the COVID pandemic,” Kelley said.