VENICE — A second COVID-19 candidate vaccine is reporting preliminary results even better than the first one.
It’s welcome news as the U.S. and a number of states continue to report record numbers of cases and more states implement mask mandates and other precautions in response.
Florida isn’t experiencing quite the surge that states in the Midwest are, but cases, hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and test positivity rates are all up from just a few weeks ago.
Locally, the numbers are more concerning.
Sarasota County reported 251 new cases Tuesday, the second time in eight days with more than 250 cases reported. The first was on Nov. 10. Another 175 cases were reported on Nov. 14.
At 10.19%, the county’s positivity rate was higher than the state’s, at 8.64%.
With 34 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, Venice Regional Bayfront Health nearly set an occupancy record on Tuesday. All that stopped it was that it had had 35 patients Monday.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital had 57 COVID-19 patients Tuesday, with 12 of them in the ICU.
The two hospitals accounted for the bulk of the 103 patients in the county — 15 more than on Monday, when Moderna Inc. released the preliminary test results for its mRNA-1273 vaccine.
According to a company news release, it was found by an independent data safety monitoring board to be 94.5% effective at the 95-case statistical criterion.
That means that out of 95 cases in the more than 30,000 people participating in Phase 3 of the clinical trial, 90 were in the placebo group and only five were in the vaccinated group.
Eleven of the cases were deemed severe; all 11 occurred in the placebo group.
The data haven’t been sent out for peer review yet.
“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release.
The monitoring board reported no significant safety concerns, with complaints including injection-site pain, fatigue, headache and redness at the injection site reported by 2% or more of participants.
Moderna developed the vaccine in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It’s part of Operation Warp Speed, a program in which the federal government has partnered with drug companies to hasten the development of a vaccine.
Moderna has $955 million available in federal funding to develop the vaccine and the U.S. government has a contract to spend up to $1.525 billion to buy doses of it.
Like the vaccine for which Pfizer announced preliminary results last week, Moderna’s vaccine requires two doses for full efficacy. Pfizer reported an efficacy rate of about 90%.
And also like Pfizer, Moderna intends to apply for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when it has additional safety and efficacy data.
It reported that it expects to have about 20 million doses of the vaccine ready to ship in the U.S. by the end of the year and is on schedule to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses worldwide next year.
Vaccines are expected to be administered to health care workers, first responders and high-risk individuals initially, then go into wider distribution as more doses become available, probably in the spring.
Neither state nor national protocols for vaccine administration have been determined, however.
By the numbers
The state reported 7,350 new cases on Tuesday. Its 8.64% positivity rate marked the ninth consecutive day it’s been over 7%.
A peak of 9.98% was reported for Nov. 13.
The county’s positivity rate has been over 5% on 10 of the last 11 days.
The Sarasota County School District reported that 23 staff members and 49 students were in isolation on Tuesday, with 62 staff members and 794 students in quarantine due to exposure to a diagnosed case.
In the previous 48 hours, 21 people had been directed to isolate and 89 to quarantine.