The arms race between the coronavirus and humanity continues to gather steam. This week, Moderna announced that its modified vaccine was intended to target a worrisome The variant found for the first time in South Africa is now ready to be tested. Pfizer / BioNTech is also set to test its own contingency plan for new variants soon.
The variant discovered in South Africa last winter, known as B.1.351, has become one of the most concerning to date. Like other recently discovered variants such as B.1.1.7 (first found in the UK), B.1.351 is more transmissible than past strains of the virus. But B.1.351 also has shows more of the ability to evade a person’s immune response created by a previous infection or vaccination than other variants. Earlier this month, for example, South Africa discontinued its pending vaccination campaign with the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, after early data suggested that it would only be minimally effective in preventing B.1.351 disease.
Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech research so far has suggested that their vaccines provide protection against B.1.351, but its effectiveness would likely be diminished. Due to a “great precaution”, Moderna Announced last month that it would develop a version of its vaccine specifically tuned to B.1.351. On Wednesday, the company saying which has now submitted the new vaccine to the US National Institutes of Health for testing in people.
Moderna initially plans to test three different strategies against B.1.351. A study, which is already underway, is testing whether a third booster dose of the original vaccine can improve a person’s immune response to the variant. The second will test a combination of the original and modified vaccine in a single booster dose. And the third will test only the modified booster. They also hope to test whether the modified and / or combined vaccine can be used effectively as the primary vaccine series for people without prior antibodies to the virus.
Don’t be left out, Pfizer / BioNTech Announced On Thursday they are beginning their own clinical trial testing a third booster dose with the original vaccine. They too in talks with federal regulators to also approve trials testing its updated version.
The judgments necessary Examining these updated vaccines for public use will not be as large or lengthy as those that led to the original emergency use authorization for any of the mRNA vaccines. This is because there is so much data on the typical immune response created by the original vaccines from large-scale trials, so less work is needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of any modified version. In addition, the researchers will test in the laboratory whether B.1.351 can evade the neutralizing antibodies to the coronavirus collected from the blood of vaccinated volunteers.
Even before the appearance of these variants, scientists warned that any covid-19 vaccine we develop might need to be adjusted periodically, just to take into account the evolution of the virus. Fortunately, the coronavirus does not appear to mutate significantly or as fast as the influenza virus, which requires an updated vaccine annually. So while it’s still important to stay as safe as possible from the pandemic for now, it’s also worth remembering that even these variants are not an insurmountable threat that we can’t do anything about.
Hopefully, we may not even need to rely on these modified vaccines for now, as long as daily new cases continue to decline dramatically as more people get vaccinated.