By Alan Lyndon
Moderna today announced it is developing a booster shot to proactively address the evolving Covid-19 virus, particularly to guard against a new South African strain.
Several new variants of the virus have been discovered including a more contagious strain originating from Britain. Moderna says the current vaccine is protective against British variant, which, so far, has been detected in at least 20 states.
The South African variant of the virus has not yet spread to the United States. But Moderna has found a six-fold reduction in neutralizing the antibodies that can disable the virus in the South African strain as compared to prior variants.
Despite the reduction, the current vaccine still remains above levels expected to be protective against the South African variant.
“As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, “we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves.”
The Moderna vaccine, like Pfizer’s, is an mRNA vaccine that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine has been found to be 94 percent effective against the current strains of Covid-19.
“Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform,” said Bancel, “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.”
In an appearance on CNBC Monday to discuss Moderna’s booster plan, Bancel recommended continued vigilance even after receiving the vaccine.
“I still believe that, as Dr. Fauci has said, there is a time in late summer for where we can take the mask off because you know people have been vaccinated,” said Bancel. “But we need to not leave our guard down which is why, out of caution, we want to put this vaccine in the clinic for that new strain just in case it is needed later, in case immunity wanes, especially in the elderly.”
Updated 10:40AM Monday, January 25, 2021