Moderna on Wednesday said it has shipped to the National Institutes of Health doses of a new COVID-19 vaccine designed to provide better protection against the highly contagious coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.
“Moderna is committed to making as many updates to our vaccine as necessary until the pandemic is under control,” the company’s CEO, Stephane Bancel, said in a press release.
“We hope to demonstrate that booster doses, if necessary, can be done at lower dose levels, which will allow us to provide many more doses to the global community in late 2021 and 2022 if necessary.”
Even though there is no evidence yet to suggest that the virus has mutated in a way that makes it able to evade the existing vaccines, there is still serious concerns among scientists around the world at the prospect of this.
Studies conducted earlier showed that Moderna’s vaccine was less protective against the South African variant, but the company said the observed level of neutralizing antibodies — which can bind to viruses and block them from getting into cells — stayed above protective levels.
The preliminary findings prompted Moderna to begin refining its vaccine in order to make it more effective against the South Africa variant and other strains of the virus such as the one that was first reported in the United Kingdom and another thought to have emerged in Brazil.
The drug maker has already begun tests using a third dose of its vaccine as a booster shot in people who have already received two doses, but it will now start clinical trials to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of its variant-specific booster.
The company will also test a “multivalent booster candidate” that combines its original vaccine with the variant-specific version into a single dose.
As part of the new trials, Moderna will evaluate the immune responses in people who are already vaccinated, as well as in participants who are receiving vaccine shots for the first time.