“With the release of these mutants, you’re just wondering where it’s going to go now, it keeps me awake at night,” said Peter Marks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration official who designed the U.S. vaccination program, Operation. Warp Speed, in December broadcast on WebMD.
Moderna says laboratory studies indicate that its current vaccine, first licensed in the US in December, should protect against all of the major variants currently being tracked, including one in the UK which is considered more transmissible, there is therefore no reason to modify the inoculation yet.
“From what we have seen so far, the variants described … do not alter the ability of the neutralizing antibodies caused by the vaccination to neutralize the virus,” Zaks said, adding that he believed the protection conferred by vaccination “should last at least a year.”
“Our technology is very well suited to rapidly deploy a vaccine based on the new variant. But based on the data we’ve seen today, we don’t see the need for it, ”he says.
The company’s new vaccine, along with that from Pfizer and BioNTech, involves conditioning the genetic instructions for the coronavirus ‘spike’ protein into tiny fatty nanoparticles. Injected into a person’s arm, cells begin to read this information and make the advanced molecule, triggering an immune response that tests show leads to protection against severe covid in the vast majority of people.
The flexibility of the technology is that the genetic information – messenger RNA – can easily be rewritten and revised, including to reflect the latest mutant forms of the virus. The other ingredients, salts, sugars and lipid nanoparticles would not have to be modified.
Last spring, it took Moderna just six weeks to design and manufacture the first batches of its vaccine, which it delivered to the National Institutes of Health for initial animal testing. There is no reason it cannot be done again. “Technically, it is possible to manufacture a new vaccine mimicking the new strain in a matter of weeks,” Uğur Şahin, founder and CEO of BioNTech, said at a press event in Decemberr, and whose company uses similar technology.
What took longer were the human tests, including a large study by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health involving more than 30,000 volunteers that ran from July to November. In this study, half of the participants received the vaccine and the other half received a dummy injection, giving researchers an unbiased view of its effectiveness.