Moderna says it’s working on Covid booster shot for variant in South Africa, says current vaccine provides some protection


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Source: CNBC

By Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Moderna said Monday it’s accelerating work on a Covid-19 booster shot to guard against the recently discovered variant in South Africa.

Its researchers said its current coronavirus vaccine appears to work against the two highly transmissible strains found in the U.K. and South Africa, although it looks like it may be less effective against the latter.

The two-dose vaccine produced an antibody response against multiple variants, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which were first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, respectively, according to a Moderna study conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.

The vaccine generated a weaker immune response against the South African strain, but the antibodies remained above levels that are expected to be protective against the virus, the company said, adding the findings may suggest “a potential risk of earlier waning of immunity to the new B.1.351 strains.”

“Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

Shares of Moderna were up nearly 4% in premarket trading after the announcement.

On Thursday, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said new data showed that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus. Some early findings that were published in the preprint server bioRxiv indicate that the South Africa variant can evade the antibodies provided by some coronavirus treatments.

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Categories: Vaccine

4 replies

  1. Moderna Inc. said its vaccine will protect against two known variants of the Covid-19 vaccine, but it plans to start human studies of a booster shot for a strain from South Africa that may cause immunity to wane more quickly.

    In laboratory tests, Moderna’s vaccine produced antibody protection against the strain first identified in the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, at levels comparable with older versions of the virus. But against the South Africa variant, known as B.1.351, the neutralizing antibodies produced were six-fold lower, the company said in a statement.

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    Despite that decrease, Moderna’s vaccine should protect against either strain, according to the company. While the South Africa variant hasn’t been seen in the U.S., the U.K. mutation, which British officials said last week may be deadlier than earlier forms of the disease, is spreading rapidly among Americans. Both strains are thought to be more transmissible than the original version of the virus.

  2. Moderna Inc. said its Covid-19 vaccine appeared to protect against emerging variants of the coronavirus in laboratory tests, but as a precaution it would test whether a booster shot improves immune responses and develop a new vaccine targeting the strain first identified in South Africa.

    The company said Monday its vaccine produced immune-system agents known as neutralizing antibodies that worked against the emerging virus variants tested, including strains first evident in the U.K. and South Africa.

    That means the Moderna vaccine likely still protects against the emerging strains, but a weaker response to the South Africa variant suggests the hazards of a virus that could mutate in significant ways while countries race to vaccinate against it.

    The new strains appear to spread more easily from person to person, and there are signs that the U.K. variant is more deadly than earlier forms of the virus. The strains appear to be spreading around the world, prompting U.S. health authorities to warn the variant first detected in the U.K. could become dominant by March.

  3. US scientists are preparing to upgrade Covid-19 vaccines to address variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the UK and South Africa, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Monday. At the same time, Moderna said that though its Covid vaccine worked against the variants, it was developing a new form to be used as a booster shot.

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    “We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve should we need to,” Dr Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told the New York Times. “I think of it as an insurance policy.

    “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”

    Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert who is advising Joe Biden, spoke to NBC and CBS on Monday morning, a day after the US Covid caseload passed 25m, with close to 420,000 deaths.

    Fauci said the new variants of the coronavirus were not only more infectious but did not respond as well to monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating Covid patients. He said he was especially concerned about the South African variant, which he described as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK”.

  4. As part of the new efforts announced Tuesday, the US will buy 100 million more doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 100 million more from Moderna — the two-dose vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer and Moderna are working to step up production, and Biden said that the additional doses will be available this summer.
    The new purchase will increase the planned Covid-19 vaccine supply from 400 million to 600 million, an official told reporters on a call on Tuesday ahead of Biden’s remarks.

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