Moderna says its vaccine 'works against UK and South Africa Covid variants'

25 January 2021, 14:08 | Updated: 25 January 2021, 16:19

Moderna says its jab is effective against the UK and South African Covid variants
Moderna says its jab is effective against the UK and South African Covid variants. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine works against new variants first identified in the UK and South Africa, the company has said.

The pharmaceutical firm acknowledged that its jab is less effective against the South African strain but that it still has a positive impact on neutralising the virus.

It also said it is working on developing a booster shot to make it more effective against the South African Covid variant.

"Vaccination with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine produced neutralizing titers against all key emerging variants tested, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, first identified in the UK and Republic of South Africa, respectively," Moderna said in a statement.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US.

Scientists found that the vaccine is equally effective against the UK strain as it is against the original version of the virus.

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However, there is a "six-fold reduction" in its efficacy against the South African variant, the researchers said.

But the company added that, despite this drop, the jab remains "above levels that are expected to be protective".

The firm did not mention whether its two-dose vaccine will be effective against the new coronavirus strain that has emerged in Brazil.

However, Moderna is testing "an additional booster dose of its Covid-19 vaccine (mRNA-1273) to study the ability to further increase neutralizing titers against emerging strains beyond the existing primary vaccination series".

It is also advancing an emerging variant booster candidate (mRNA-1273.351) against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.

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“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," Moderna's chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel said.

"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.

“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.”

Both the UK and South African strains have spread rapidly within communities due to being more transmissive than the original virus, with British scientists saying the Kent variant appears more deadly.

The strains have led dozens of other countries to close their borders to the two nations.

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Moderna's drug is due to arrive in Britain in the spring, with the government purchasing 17 million doses of the vaccine.

Due to shots being administered in two doses, this will be enough to inoculate 8.5 million people.

More than 6.1 million vaccinations took place in England between 8 December 8 and 24 January, according to provisional NHS England data.

This figure includes first and second doses, which is a rise of 199,202 on the previous day's figures.

Of this number, more than 5.7 million were the first dose, a rise of 198,592 on the previous day's figures, while 441,684 were the second dose, an increase of 610.

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