As two new variants of the coronavirus from the United Kingdom and South Africa threaten to sweep the U.S., Moderna has released a comforting statement to suggest that their FDA approved two-dose vaccine already protects against the new strains.
In trials, the Moderna vaccine did not lose any of its efficacy against the new strains, the company explains in its statement. They will test an additional booster shot of the vaccine to determine if that increases its effectiveness, and will launch preclinical studies of a vaccine booster candidate against the South African strain:
"The two-dose regimen of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at the 100 µg dose is expected to be protective against emerging strains detected to date. Nonetheless, Moderna today announced its clinical strategy to proactively address the pandemic as the virus continues to evolve. First, the Company will test an additional booster dose of its COVID-19 Vaccine (mRNA-1273) to study the ability to further increase neutralizing titers against emerging strains beyond the existing primary vaccination series. Second, the Company is advancing an emerging variant booster candidate (mRNA-1273.351) against the B.1.351 variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa. The Company is advancing mRNA-1273.351 into preclinical studies and a Phase 1 study in the U.S. to evaluate the immunological benefit of boosting with strain-specific spike proteins. Moderna expects that its mRNA-based booster vaccine (whether mRNA-1273 or mRNA-1273.351) will be able to further boost neutralizing titers in combination with all of the leading vaccine candidates.
"As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves. 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 Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna. “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."
The UK strain was first detected in the U.S. in September. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the world that this variant is 30 to 70 percent more transmittable than the first, and far deadlier, according to scientists who advise the British government. Over the weekend President Biden announced that a ban on non-U.S. travelers from the UK, Ireland, and several other European countries, will be enforced on Monday. The South African variant has yet to be discovered in the U.S.
With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) January 19, 2021
The Moderna vaccine was approved by the FDA just a few weeks after the agency approved a vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech. Millions of Americans have already been vaccinated.