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Moderna says vaccine will protect against powerful new virus strain

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the move was out of “an abundance of caution” after preliminary lab tests suggested its shot produced a weaker immune response to that variant.

Vaccine manufacturers have been testing their shots against the mutated strains including two that first emerged in Britain and South Africa.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last year received emergency clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration. (AP)

In a study conducted with the National Institutes of Health, Moderna used blood samples from eight vaccine recipients, and some immunised monkeys, in laboratory tests against the mutated viruses.

The vaccine was effective against both variants but researchers found a six-fold drop in levels of “neutralising antibodies” against the strain from South Africa.

Moderna said while the levels still were protective, it has begun developing a booster vaccine targeted to that new strain, called the B.1.351 variant. In addition, Moderna will test if simply giving an extra dose of the original vaccine could be helpful.

Pfizer, which makes a similar COVID-19 vaccine, has previously reported that its shot also appears effective against the strain from Britain. But other research has raised questions about the variant from South Africa.

The 501Y.V2 South African variant had been found in at least seven other countries – Australia, New Zealand, Finland, the UK, Switzerland, Japan, and Zambia.

Australia has suspended travel with New Zealand after a woman in hotel quarantine in Auckland was confirmed to have the South African variant of coronavirus.

The mutated strain rapidly became the dominant variant in South Africa, representing about 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cases.

The mutated strain rapidly became the dominant variant in South Africa. (AP)

Some experts estimate the UK mutation may be up to 50 per cent – and possibly 70 per cent – more transmissible.

The South African mutant virus shares some mutations with the UK variant. Both super strains have the same mutation on their spike protein – N501Y.

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