Moderna says that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the new variant strains of the coronavirus that were discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa, the company announced in a statement Monday.
"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," Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, said in a statement.
The vaccine triggers an immune response that protects against the two variants, known as SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, and B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.
The company added that the antibodies were slightly less effective against the strain first detected in South Africa, so the company is launching two new studies, including adding a third shot to boost the two dose routine of the vaccine, as well as advancing a new vaccine specific to the variant.
"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," Bancel added.
Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there is "some evidence" the variant of the coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom "may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the British government, gave this example: "A man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die."
Vallance added that the data is not yet strong, and that "individuals who have been infected previously and have generated antibodies appear to be equally protected against the original virus and the new variant."
Johnson added that the vaccines approved in the UK – from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford University – are effective against the variant
Moderna's announcement seems to put some of the fears that the vaccine's effectiveness against the mutated variant of the coronavirus to rest.
The vaccine from Moderna was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December, the second vaccine granted such authorization in the United States. Two more vaccine candidates, from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, could file for Emergency Use Authorization in the coming weeks.