What's the difference between all the Covid vaccines?

First there was Pfizer, then AstraZeneca, now Moderna and Novavax. How do they differ? And which might you get?

Obs Pfizer


Approved in UK, EU and US

Type Synthetic mRNA vaccine made from enzymes; sends “messenger” RNA into body with instructions on how to produce antigens.

Manufacture Cultured cell materials made by BioNTech in Germany, then sent to Pfizer in Puurs, Belgium to be formulated and bottled. Similar process in US; and rival French firm Sanofi also making doses.

Distribution From Belgium it goes to central NHS depots, then batches of 1,000 doses sent to hospitals and GP hubs where they are thawed from -70C.

Supply Some part of England including London have received less than others. Pfizer has cut supply while it upgrades Belgian factory. Enzyme manufacturing process can be less efficient at large volumes.

Delivery UK ordered 40m doses, but will not say how many delivered. Pfizer to make 2bn this year, with 200m for EU, 170m for US. Covax, a WHO initiative, bought 40m for low-income countries.

Obs Astra Oxford


Approved in UK and EU

Type A “viral vector” vaccine using common cold virus modified with “spike” protein to make it similar to Covid-19.

Manufacture Grown from cells infected with virus in “bioreactors”; then filtered and purified. UK plants in Wrexham, Oxford and Keele. Also in Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Distribution Can be kept six months in standard refrigeration. Is going to 206 hospitals, 50 regional hubs and 1,200 GP surgery hubs.

Supply Plants in Belgium and Germany have had production problems – biological processes are not always predictable. The UK Vaccine Taskforce noted “fill-finish” facilities in Wales where doses are filled in vials as signficant possible bottleneck, according to Dr Zoltán Kis, a research associate at Future Vaccine.

Delivery UK has ordered 100m doses, EU has ordered 300m, but firm will only be able to deliver 25m by end of March.

Obs Moderna


Approved in UK, EU and US

Type MRNA vaccine made using similar process as Pfizer/BioNTech.

Manufacture American firm has two main plants in US, and set up operations in Switerland, with Lonza, and in Sweden with Recipharm.

Distribution Must be stored at -20C, so specialist vaccination centres.

Supply Moderna had production delays with shortage of glass vials and rubber stoppers.

Delivery UK has ordered 17m doses with first 5m arriving from March. US has ordered 200m, and EU 160m. Covax is in talks.

Obs Novax


Phase 3 trial ended – not yet approved

Type A protein subunit vaccine, NVX-CoV2373, designed using part of Covid-19, and contains spike proteins produced by moth cells infected with genetically modified version of coronavirus. Also contains an “adjuvant”, which enhances immune response.

Manufacture Has signed deals with manufacturers in Germany, Czech Republic, and Fujifilm Diosynth factory in Teesside. Some ingredients will be made in India, and adjuvants made in US, Sweden and Denmark.

Distribution Can be stored at refrigeration temperatures. Yet to be approved in UK.

Supply First doses not expected until March or April. US firm is smaller than other vaccine makers and has not delivered on this scale before.

Delivery UK has ordered 60m doses.

Obs Johnsons

Johnson and Johnson

Phase 3 trial ended – not yet approved

Type Viral vector vaccine, similar to the AstraZeneca, using modified cold virus as a base.

Manufacture Firm has seven factories in US and Europe that will make 1bn doses this year.

Distribution Vaccine can be refrigerated, but not yet been approved in the UK.

Supply J&J is behind its original plan to deliver 12m doses in US by March.

Delivery UK bought 30m doses. J&J is due to deliver 100m doses to the US, 200m to EU and 500m to Covax.

Other vaccines UK has pre-ordered 60m doses each from GSK/Sanofi Pasteur and Valneva, which are in phase 2 trials.

• This article was amended on 12 February 2021 to remove a reference to a Janssen vaccine. As a subsidiary company, Janssen is developing the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.


James Tapper

The GuardianTramp

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