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Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine effective against UK, South Africa variants

US biotechnology firm Moderna has said lab studies showed its Covid-19 vaccine would remain protective against variants of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, reported AFP Monday.

In the study, they replicated the virus’s variants and then tested their new vaccine on them. The idea is to measure how much the mutation neutralised the antibodies produced by the vaccine.

“The study showed no significant impact” on the level of neutralizing antibodies elicited against the UK variant, B.1.1.7.

What they discovered, however, was that the vaccine was not as effective against the South African variant.

A vaccine leads to the development of antibodies but it is important for the antibodies to reach a certain level in the system. If not, then the vaccine has not been effective.

The study found a six-fold reduction in antibody levels with the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa. But the levels are thought to be above what is required for protection against Covid-19.

The company has been working on a booster shot.

“We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve should we need to,” Dr Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview to the New York Times. “I think of it as an insurance policy.”

He added, “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”

Moderna had conducted its study on the blood samples from eight people who received two doses of the vaccine, and two monkeys that had also been inoculated.

The new coronavirus variants have raised fears that the vaccines under development might not be effective.

Recently, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that the UK virus variant “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality”, according to the BBC.

It has become the dominant strain circulating in England and Northern Ireland, and has also spread to at least 60 other countries.

The South African variant has been detected in 23 countries so far, according to the WHO.

Moderna’s existing COVID-19 vaccine used mRNA (messenger RNA) technology which is easier to tweak to work against mutations.

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