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Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine effective in blocking new strains

By
Jean Lotus & Daniel Uria
A nurse at Broward Health Medical Center Fort Lauderdale, Fla., holds a bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI
A nurse at Broward Health Medical Center Fort Lauderdale, Fla., holds a bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Pharmaceutical company Moderna on Monday released new data that show its vaccine has proven to be effective against new, mutated strains of COVID-19 that first were identified in Britain and South Africa.

Moderna, which already has its vaccine being distributed in the United States, said new studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed its two-dose vaccine should protect against the mutated strains, but may require another booster to protect against the South African variant.

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The company said its current vaccine produces antibody responses against known variants, including the British variant B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, the South African strain.

The antibody response was weaker for the South African strain, it said, which may indicate a "potential risk of earlier waning of immunity."

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As a result, Moderna will do more research on another booster shot.

"Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate ... into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants," Moderna CEO St├ęphane Bancel said in a statement.

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Moderna's vaccine proved to be about 95% effective, delivered in two doses several weeks apart. The vaccine uses messenger RNA to spur an immune response with bits of genetic material instead of a full virus.

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For weeks, experts have been unsure whether the existing vaccines also offer full protection against the variant strains.

"This is not a problem yet," Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia told CNBC on Monday.

Offit said Moderna and other drug companies are working now to prepare for new variants.

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"Get ready just in case a variant emerges, which is resistant," he said.

Minnesota on Monday reported its first case of the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil marking the first case of the variant, which is thought to be more transmissible than the original strain, in the United States.

The patient reported traveling to Brazil before becoming ill during the first week of January and the specimen was collected on Jan. 9 the Minnesota Department of Public Health said. The state also discovered two new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the United States and President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, warned last week that new coronavirus strains could be twice as transmissible, but a strong nationwide inoculation program would likely keep the virus from mutation levels.

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The data released by Moderna on Monday has not yet been published for peer review.

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