• Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford - What's the Difference Between the COVID-19 Vaccines?

Microscopy & Microtechniques

Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford - What's the Difference Between the COVID-19 Vaccines?

Dec 12 2020

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is finally over, with not one but three solutions available. So what’s the difference between the trio? Read on for a glimpse at the offerings from Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford, and how scientists developed three of the most highly anticipated vaccines in the world.


Currently being rolled out in the UK, the vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is 95% effective at preventing infection. Over the coming weeks it will be administered to more than 800,000 Brits, with senior citizens taking top priority. This includes figureheads such as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, as well as frontline healthcare workers. Classed as an mRNA vaccine, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine uses genetic material to encode the viral protein. This set of genetic instructions is then injected into the shoulder, where they’re translated by muscle cells to trigger the production of viral protein. This creates immunity and prevents a virus from taking hold.


Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Moderna uses synthetic ribonucleic acid (RNA) messengers to protect the body against SARS-CoV-2 infection. It was developed by in collaboration with the US National Institutes of Health, with scientists at the Massachusetts-based company using RNA messengers to replicate the spike protein found on the shell of SARS-CoV-2.

This sparks an immunological response and blocks the virus from attaching to cells. Clinical studies suggest a 94% effectiveness rate, making the Moderna vaccine an exciting alternative to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.


Developed by biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the Oxford vaccine has emerged as contender number three. During phase three trials the vaccine delivered effectiveness rates as high as 90%. The vaccine is unique as unlike offerings from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, it uses a genetically modified chimpanzee virus to store DNA codes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Not only is the Oxford option cheaper than vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, it’s also easier to store and transport as it doesn’t need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. While it’s not as effective as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine it does outperform the general influenza vaccine, which reduces the risk of flu by between 40 and 60%. It’s not the first time scientists at the University of Oxford have used the chimpanzee virus to develop human vaccines, with a team previously testing the concept on a similar coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

From vaccines to cancer research, science plays a critical role in improving public health. Find out more about the latest developments in ‘Micropatterning: The art of micro-controlling cells.’

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