The SARS-CoV-2 virus is mutating faster than scientists previously thought. As such, pharmaceutical companies are now scrambling to both test whether their vaccines are effective against new variants of the virus and to develop booster shots.
Currently, both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have said that their vaccines appear to be effective against the new variants of coronavirus in the UK and South Africa, although they are both less protective against the South African variant. As such, protection against this variant may disappear more quickly unless further measures are taken.
To this end, Moderna has started to develop a new form of its vaccine to be used as a booster shot against the South African variant. While Moderna's chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, says that they hope it will not be necessary, they are developing it as 'an insurance policy'. The company has also said that it plans to begin testing whether giving patients a third shot of its original vaccine may help fend off new variants.
Moreover, in a recent experiment that is yet to be published or peer-reviewed, Moderna examined blood samples from eight people, and two monkeys had received two doses of their vaccine. While they found that the vaccine was similarly effective against both the original and British variant of the virus, antibodies produced by the vaccine appeared to be six times less effective against the South African variant. Nevertheless, the company said that their antibodies remained above minimum protective levels.
Meanwhile, BioNTech is now in discussions with regulators to define the types of clinical trials needed worldwide to authorize a new version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that would be better able to fend off the South African variant. Although the company says it could develop a new vaccine capable of tackling new variants in just six weeks, the Food and Drug Administration is yet to comment on policy for authorizing such 'updated' vaccines.