Moderna says vaccine protects against UK variant, but developing booster for South African mutation

By KNX 1070

One of scientists' greatest fears since the start of the pandemic has been that the coronavirus could mutate -- that fear has come to pass.

The UK variant was discovered a few weeks ago, and then a new strains were found in South Africa, and Brazil.

The UK variant is now in 30 states in the U.S.

California Gavin Newsom announced in late December evidence of the new strain in San Diego and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a new report Friday that this new variant could be the dominant strain by March.

"Multiple lines of evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 is more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants," the CDC said.

Health experts acknowledge that both strains are more highly contagious, and Friday British Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced that the variant in the UK was quite likely also more lethal – 30% more lethal.

Monday, Moderna announced that its vaccine is effective against both variants, but less-so for the South African version. So the company is developing a booster shot that could be used against the virus.

“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 New York Times. “I think of it as an insurance policy.” He added, “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”

Moderna based their announcement on a study of eight people and two monkeys who received their requisite two doses of the vaccine and had the same level of anitibodies to the virus in the UK variant. In the South African variant there was a six-fold reduction in antibodies.

Moderna conducted the study in conjunction with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The South African and Brazilian strains have not yet been found in the U.S.

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