COVID Will be 'Ongoing Battle' for Next Few Years, says President of Vaccine Maker Moderna

The fight against COVID-19 could be an "ongoing battle for the next couple of years," the president of Moderna has said.

The pharmaceutical company this week revealed that its existing COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, which was approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month, could offer protection against two new fast-spreading variants of the virus, the B.1.1.7 strain and the B.1.351 strain.

However, Moderna also warned that as long as the virus continues to spread between people, it will continue to mutate, which will lead to further new strains emerging.

"The virus is going to evolve as long as it's infecting," the president of Moderna, Dr. Stephen Hoge, said during a conference call on Monday.

"The key thing we need to do is to stop it from infecting. We need to break that transmission and, secondly, stop those infections from lasting a very long time."

Hoge emphasized that Moderna would have to test its vaccine against new strains "time and time again" to find out how effective it is against them.

"Until we've got this thing sort of fully suppressed and in control, and people are broadly vaccinated or seropositive and protected against it, it's going to be an ongoing battle for the next couple of years," he said during a virtual panel on Monday, CNN reports.

The B.1.1.7 strain, which was first discovered in the U.K. in September, is more contagious than the original strain of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that by March it could be the dominant strain in the U.S.

Tests conducted by Moderna on its vaccine found that there was "no significant impact on neutralization" against the B.1.1.7 variant, which means it should be able to combat it as effectively as the original strain.

As had been feared though, Moderna's tests indicated that its vaccine may work less effectively against the B.1.351 strain, which was first discovered in South Africa in December.

Moderna's testing showed a six-fold reduction in production of antibodies, but the company said that it should still be enough to provide protection.

However, Moderna is developing a version of the vaccine that could be used as a "booster" against the B.1.351 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," said the CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel.

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on display at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital in New York City, December 21, 2020. The CEO of the pharmaceutical firm has warned that more and more mutated strains could emerge.