Moderna Says Vaccine Protects Against New Coronavirus Variants, But Less Effective Against South Africa Strain

(Photo by SZILARD KOSZTICSAK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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Moderna announced Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the new coronavirus variations that were detected in the U.K. and South Africa. The vaccine, however, is not as protective against the variant found in South Africa.

Moderna will be developing a new form of its vaccine to be used as a booster shot against the variant that emerged in South Africa, but the company’s leadership expressed that the booster would be created more as an “insurance policy” that may not be needed, The New York Times reported.

“We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve should we need to,” Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer said, according to the Times. “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”

Moderna said the vaccine produces neutralizing antibodies that can disable the virus. While the U.K. variant had no impact on the levels of antibodies produced, the South African variant reduced the levels sixfold, although the antibodies were still above levels that are “expected to be protective,” the Times reported.

The U.K. variant has been detected in nearly two dozen states, and is so far two times more contagious than the original strain. Britain’s chief scientific adviser announced Friday that the strain may also be more deadly, although the evidence is uncertain and more research is needed. (RELATED: UK Chief Scientist Says New Coronavirus Variant May Be More Deadly And Transmissible, But Cautions That Extra Research Is Needed)

The South African variant and a variant that emerged in Brazil have yet to be found in the U.S. The Moderna booster could be used if needed one year after the original vaccine is administered, and the need for a booster may be determined by blood tests to measure antibody levels, or from observing the population of vaccinated people to see if they are becoming sick from the new variant, according to the Times.

U.K. scientists have expressed growing concern about the South Africa and Brazil variants, cautioning that additional measures may need to be taken to prevent the variants from entering the country. Zaks told the Times that Moderna does not yet have data on the Brazilian variant, but experts expect it will be similar to the South African variant.

“That’s the one with the most overlap. New strains will continue to emerge and we’ll continue to evaluate them,” Zaks told the Times.

He added that if a new vaccine is needed, Moderna could create a new one, hopefully with a faster time frame than the 42 days it took to produce the original vaccine.