Opinion & Columnist

JUST IN: Moderna working on Covid booster shot for variant in South Africa, current vaccine working

Roselyne Sachiti Features, Health and Society Editor
• Moderna advancing an emerging variant booster candidate (mRNA-1273.351) against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.
• Clinical strategy to proactively address the pandemic as the virus continues to evolve.
• 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

US-based biotech company Moderna yesterday said it is accelerating work on a Covid-19 booster shot to guard against the recently discovered variant in South Africa adding it believes its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new variants of the coronavirus.

In a statement, the biotech company announced that the move was out of an abundance of caution after preliminary lab tests suggested its shot produced a weaker immune response to that variant.

Nonetheless, Moderna announced its clinical strategy to proactively address the pandemic as the virus continues to evolve. First, the Company said it 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 revealed it is advancing an emerging variant booster candidate (mRNA-1273.351) against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.

“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 Moderna Chief Executive Officer, Stéphane Bancel.

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Moderna chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel

“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.”
First detected in September 2020 in the United Kingdom, the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant has seventeen mutations in the viral genome with eight mutations located in the spike (S) protein. The B.1.351 variant, first detected in South Africa, has ten mutations located in the spike (S) protein. Both variants have spread at a rapid rate and are associated with increased transmission and a higher viral burden after infection1,2.

 

Moderna’s vaccine, like Pfizer’s, uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. This is a novel approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response. Late-stage clinical trial data published in November last year shows Moderna’s vaccine is more than 94 percent effective in preventing Covid, is safe and appears to fend off severe disease. To achieve maximum effectiveness, the vaccine requires two doses taken four weeks apart.

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