Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac: A look at three key COVID-19 vaccines

Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac: A look at three key COVID-19 vaccines

Dose of the COVID-19 vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer is pictured in this undated handout photo
A dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer is pictured in this undated handout photo. (Photo: BioNTech/REUTERS)

By the end of this week, people in the country worst-hit by COVID-19 could gain access to a second COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday (Dec 15), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) endorsed mRNA-1273 - the vaccine candidate made by American biotechnology company Moderna - as safe and effective.

This paves the way for the vaccine's emergency authorisation, a decision that the FDA will make after a panel of outside advisers meets on Thursday.

If authorised, Moderna's vaccine will follow the one from Pfizer-BioNTech, which the US and Britain have already begun administering to the general public. 

Singapore has also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the first shipment expected by the end of the year. 

READ: Data on Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine 'robustly and thoroughly reviewed', says HSA 

READ: Moderna confirms agreement with MOH to supply Singapore with COVID-19 vaccine

Other countries such as Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Kuwait have also authorised the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. A big group that could soon follow, if the European Union gives its final approval, which could come as early as Dec 23. 

A third COVID-19 vaccine, developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, is also currently in late-stage trials. Indonesia already has 1.2 million doses of CoronaVac, the vaccine it has been testing since August.

Here’s a look at how the three COVID-19 vaccines differ:


The COVID-19 vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech was the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by the US FDA for emergency use.

How it works: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. mRNA vaccines teach our cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. This is different from traditional vaccines which put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies.

Storage: Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines need to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which presents logistical challenges, especially for poorer countries.

Efficacy: 95 per cent

Rollout: Britain was the first country in the world to roll out injections on Dec 8, with the US following around a week later on Dec 16. Singapore, Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia have also authorised the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

Key COVID-19 Vaccines compared gfx


The initial results from Moderna's vaccine were described a month ago by the US' leading expert on infectious diseases Anthony Fauci as "stunningly impressive".

How it works: Just like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine uses mRNA technology. 

Storage: Can be kept for 30 days with refrigeration, six months at minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Efficacy: 94.5 per cent

Rollout: None as of Dec 16. 


Developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, is currently undergoing phase 3 clinical trials in places such as Brazil and Indonesia

How it works: Sinovac's vaccine uses inactivated vaccine technology, which uses a weakened form of a live virus to stimulate our bodies to produce an immune response. This vaccine is similar to the flu vaccine. 

Storage: The vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius and may remain stable for up to three years. This may be an attractive option for places where access to refrigeration is challenging.

Efficacy: Unknown

Rollout: None as of Dec 16.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that the chickenpox and MMR vaccines are inactivated vaccines. They are not. We are sorry for the error.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak:

Source: CNA/lk(ac)