The U.S. firm, Moderna, on Monday announced that a new study has found its COVID-19 vaccine to be effective against the new highly-contagious coronavirus variants spreading in South Africa and the U.K., which have already been found in Nigeria.
Moderna Inc said, however, warned although the vaccine generated disease-fighting antibodies that worked against the South African variant, its efficacy could likely diminish with time.
The company said it will design a new vaccine that could be added to the current two-dose regimen.
Developed at a breakneck speed in less than a year, the success of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines raised hopes that the world would soon get a grip on COVID-19 even as the pandemic surges. But the detection of the two new and apparently more transmissible coronavirus variants triggered immediate concern.
Public health experts have expressed concern the new mutant strains could pose a threat to inoculation efforts.
While the UK where the first variant emerged was the first to start administering its populations with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, South Africa is among African nations still struggling to land its first batch of the vaccines.
South African scientists believe the new variant vastly spreading in the country may render the current slate of vaccines less effective.
Meanwhile, the new variant detected in the UK in September and dubbed “lineage B.1.1.7” has also been found in Nigeria. It was identified by scientists at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in Osun state in August and September when the first two samples were collected.
In the Moderna study, antibody-containing blood serum taken from people and monkeys who received the vaccine showed it was just as effective at blocking the British variant as the original strain of virus in the study.
It remained above the threshold for efficacy for the South African variant, despite the diminution in effectiveness.
The work has been submitted to a preprint server, but has not been peer-reviewed and was not available for review before publication.
“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 in the statement on the company’s website.
“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.”
To get an accurate result on the South African variant, Moderna said it will launch two new studies, according to the Washington post. “The company will test adding a third shot of its current vaccine to boost its two-dose regimen”, it said.
The biotechnology company also plans early human tests of the all-new vaccine specific to the South African variant, using it as a booster to prime the immune system to the new strain.
Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna told the Washington Post in an interview that the virus is changing its stripes, and “we will change to make sure we can beat the virus where it’s going.”
“The unknown is would we feel it’s necessary to do that, would public health officials want this at that point or would they still be comfortable? What we’re trying to do is create an option.”
The Pfizer and BioNTech appears to protect against viruses carrying at least one of the key mutations found in two coronavirus variants that are causing rapid spread across the UK, according to a study, the Guardian UK reported.
However, further research is needed to confirm that the level of protection afforded by the vaccine is as high as against older variants – and to ensure it protects against viruses carrying another significant mutation found in the South African variant.
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