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Blind study Moderna volunteer hopes she got real vaccine, not a placebo

A second coronavirus vaccine shows remarkable 94.5% effectiveness in preventing COVID.

BETHESDA, Md. — Even as COVID rampages across the country, there is news so good researchers almost can't believe it. In Phase Three trials, the new vaccine from Moderna was almost 95% effective in preventing the disease -- and 100% effective in stopping severe cases.

"That is really exciting!" Vanessa Ferragut, a vaccine volunteer from D.C., said. 

Ferragut got a second dose of something Friday in the George Washington University trial of Moderna's vaccine -- she's just not sure of what. 

"It's a blind study, so fingers crossed it's the right stuff," she said. "That I got the actual vaccine and not a placebo." 

Among 30,000 volunteers getting the two-dose Moderna vaccine, there were 95 cases of COVID with symptoms. Only five of those cases were in the group that got the real vaccine, making it 94.5% in preventing the disease.

There were 11 cases of severe COVID illness, but they were all in people who got the placebo and not the vaccine.

"I was hoping it would be close to 90%," Shobha Swaminathan, the doctor running the trial site at Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School, said. "Moderna is 94.5 or 95. That's amazing." 

By way of comparison, she said, influenza vaccines can vary widely year to year. 

"Influenza vaccines can be less than 30% effective," Swamimathan said. "In a good year, it's 75% effective." 

This is preliminary data released by the company, and it's not conclusive.

But for Ferragut, who is an event planner and sometimes bartender, it's a relief. 

"I kid my family that I've donated my body to science," she said. "I'm really happy that it's had great outcomes, and I'm really happy I could be a factor that helps this. But all the shout outs go to the doctors and nurses and everyone working behind the scenes."

Moderna said it could apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA within weeks.

Between Moderna -- and the Pfiizer vaccine that's reported to be 90% effective -- officials say there could be enough doses available by mid-December to immunize 20 million people.

The first shots are expected to go to frontline health care workers, emergency responders, and frail residents of nursing homes.

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