- Moderna is developing three different vaccine booster methods to protect against COVID-19 variants.
- Testing on one specifically designed to fight the variant that first emerged in South Africa will begin “very soon.”
- The NIH will test the booster on a few hundred participants to collect safety data for the FDA.
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The NIH will soon begin testing a new booster shot for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine that could better protect people against an emerging variant, according to the biotech’s chief executive.
Moderna announced Wednesday that it has shipped a new version of its vaccine to the NIH – exactly one year after it handed over its first COVID-19 vaccine candidate. A clinical trial will involve a few hundred participants and will begin “very soon,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Insider.
The new shot is one of several strategies Moderna is exploring to address virus variants, including one that first appeared in South Africa in October and has been found in at least 10 US states. This variant, known as B.1.351, includes several mutations to the spike protein that experts fear will make it less susceptible to the vaccines currently on the market.
Moderna is also developing two other booster shots, as well as a potential new vaccine targeted at the B.1.351 variant, the company said. But the company’s executive said its not considering reducing its two-shot vaccine to a one-shot regimen any time soon. The idea has gained traction as a way to reach more people, but Bancel said
Moderna has said that its vaccine still protects people against the South African variant and others that have begun popping up across the globe. Nonetheless, the biotech began developing a new version of its shot last month. Pfizer, too, is developing booster shots targeted at COVID-19 variants.
Bancel is also keeping a close eye on the variant that has emerged in California, and said Moderna will create a shot for that variant, if needed. “Moderna is very committed. I tell every head of state: We will chase every variant of concern. Period. If we have to chase 10 in the next 10 months, we’ll chase 10. We have the capability. We have infrastructure,” Bancel said.
Moderna may swap out its existing COVID vaccine for a new version
The booster shots are just one way Moderna plans to tackle new virus variants. The company is also developing new initial vaccines: one targeted specifically for B.1.351, and the other of which combines its existing vaccine and the B.1.351 version.
If either of those shots prove more effective than the vaccine Moderna is currently distributing, the company will phase out distribution of the old version in favor of a new shot, Bancel said.
That shouldn't dissuade people from getting vaccinated now, the chief executive added. "People should definitely get a vaccine to be protected and to protect their loved ones and the community. We're developing these out of an abundance of caution. But nobody in the world can tell whether this vaccine will be effective six months to 12 months away, with new variants. We cannot be behind, we have to be ahead of the game," he said.
These next six months of fighting the coronavirus could prove challenging, Bancel added. The southern hemisphere will soon head into the cold winter months, which present prime conditions for a virus to mutate. Other viruses like influenza tend to flourish in cold weather. Two of the variants that are already causing concern came from the southern hemisphere, and its possible more variants could be coming, he said.
Moderna is pledging to manufacture 1.4 billion vaccine doses next year
With plans for booster shots in place, Moderna has boosted its 2022 production goal from 1.2 billion doses worldwide to 1.4 billion - a 16% increase.
The biotech, which was still in the research stage before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, has quickly built up its commercial manufacturing capacity. But it and fellow vaccine maker Pfizer have run into lag time and have pledged a massive increase in production in the coming months.
Pfizer and Moderna have delivered around 80 million doses in the U.S. since late December. Approximately 54 million of those doses have come from Moderna, President Stephen Hoge told members of Congress Tuesday.
The companies are expected to deliver a combined 600 million doses by the end of July - a goal representatives from both companies told Congress they would be able to hit.