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Moderna says vaccine effective against COVID-19 variants; testing extra booster for South African strain

Moderna says vaccine effective against COVID-19 variants; testing extra booster for South African strain

Vials and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Moderna logo in this illustration taken Oct 31, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic)

WASHINGTON: US biotechnology firm Moderna on Monday (Jan 25) said lab studies showed its COVID-19 vaccine would remain protective against variants of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

But out of caution, the company will test adding a second booster of its vaccine - to make three shots in total - and has begun preclinical studies on a booster specifically for the South African variant after tests showed the vaccine may produce a diminished antibody response.

The current regimen is for two shots, four weeks apart. The company said in a press release that it was being cautious and that the two-dose regimen of the vaccine was still expected to be protective against the South African and other variants detected to date.

"We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants," said Stephane Bancel, Moderna's CEO.

"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."

READ: EU proposes more travel restrictions to stop coronavirus variants

READ: UK detects 77 cases of South African COVID-19 variant, 9 of Brazilian

To study the impact of the existing vaccine, called mRNA-1273, Moderna took blood samples from eight people who had received two doses of the vaccine, and primates that had also been immunised.

For the B117 variant, first identified in the UK, there was no impact on the level of neutralising antibodies - which bind to the virus and prevent it from invading human cells - that were produced by the shots.

But for the South African variant, B1351, there was a sixfold reduction in the neutralising antibody level.

Even so, it remained above the quantity that was shown to be protective in earlier tests on primates that were infected on purpose.

The company, which carried out the studies with the National Institutes of Health, has submitted the study to a preprint server so it can be analysed by the wider scientific community.

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Source: AGENCIES/zl

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