South Africa

Fauci unveils study to test Moderna vaccine on SA Covid-19 variant

Fauci unveils study to test Moderna vaccine on SA Covid-19 variant

Moderna is the latest company to test whether its Covid-19 vaccine is weakened by what’s become known as the SA variant but is more technically known as the B. 1.351 variant.

Since vaccine development against Covid-19 began, efforts have been undermined by the variant’s mutations in the spike protein.

Data published in the New England Journal of Medicine have already shown that two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which SA purchased but then sold to other African countries, had efficacy of only 10.4% against mild to moderate infections caused by the B. 1.351 variant.

The Moderna vaccine uses mRNA technology — the same technology being used for the Pfizer vaccine. This technology bases itself on a natural chemical messenger that warns cells in our bodies to make proteins that mimic part of the virus that causes Covid-19. This teaches the immune system to recognise and attack the actual virus.

The Moderna trial will enrol about 210 healthy adult volunteers at four clinical research sites in the US, and will test different dosing options and numbers of shots given.

The trial is led and funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

“The B. 1.351 SARS-CoV-2 variant, first identified in SA, has been detected in at least nine states in the US,” said NIAID director Anthony Fauci,

“Preliminary data show that the Covid-19 vaccines currently available in the US should provide an adequate degree of protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants.

“However, out of an abundance of caution, NIAID has continued its partnership with Moderna to evaluate this variant vaccine candidate should there be a need for an updated vaccine.”

Another important question in vaccine development is efficacy when it comes to adolescents: it is believed  many school-goers have acquired the virus but remained asymptomatic then passed it on to others in different age groups.

SA’s second wave is also thought to have been fuelled  by youngsters who attended Rage festivals.

This week, Pfizer announced that its vaccine, developed in partnership with BioNTech, showed high efficacy and is well-tolerated in 12 to 15-year-olds.

The company said in a statement that a phase three trial of 2,260 participants aged 12 to 15 saw strong antibody responses one month after the second dose, and that this had “exceeded” those demonstrated in participants between 16 and 25.