COVID Vaccines Should Protect Against New Variants, Moderna and Pfizer Say

Existing COVID vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech should protect against new coronavirus variants, the companies have said.

Moderna announced on Monday that study results suggested its vaccine could neutralize the emerging variants, including the B.1.1.7 strain first identified in the U.K. and the B.1.351 strain first seen in South Africa.

The findings were submitted to bioRxiv, an online repository for biological science papers that have yet to be peer-reviewed and published. The study will now undergo more rigorous scrutiny.

The study used blood samples from eight people who had received two doses of Moderna's mRNA-1273 vaccine and samples from two primates that were also immunized. It found that there had been "no significant impact on neutralization" against the U.K variant.

However, as reported by The New York Times, the vaccine appeared slightly less effective against the South Africa variant. The study showed a sixfold reduction in production of antibodies, but Moderna said that was still enough to provide protection.

As a result, Moderna is developing a version of the vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against the South Africa variant of COVID-19, the virus that has led to more than 99.3 million infections worldwide.

Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said in a statement published on Monday: "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."

B.1.1.7 was first detected in September 2020, while B.1.351 was detected last month. Both are believed to spread at a faster rate, with a higher viral load.

Pfizer/BioNTech announced last Wednesday that a study of blood samples from people immunized with its vaccine showed that they also appeared to be protected against the U.K. variant, which is now spreading in the U.S.

Its results were uploaded to bioRxiv and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The scientists used blood samples from more than a dozen people who had been given its vaccine and determined that they still had antibodies that neutralized the virus.

Dr. Jonathan Stoye, group leader of the Retrovirus-Host Interactions Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said the news was not surprising, but welcome.

Stoye said: "The study applies standard methodology to examine the inhibition of viruses carrying the spike protein of the new variant and original viruses by sera from 16 individuals who participated in German trials of the vaccine.

"No difference was seen between the two virus preparations. This makes it very unlikely that the U.K. variant will escape from the protection provided by the vaccine."

Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine
Pharmacist Colleen Teevan prepares the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine before it is administered to people at the Hartford Convention Center in Connecticut on January 4. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty