Moderna tweaking COVID vaccine to target evasive new variants

Credit: Jakub Porzycki/AP
Credit: Jakub Porzycki/AP

[A] highly transmissible variant first detected in people who had recently traveled to Brazil was discovered in Minnesota.

Moderna, the maker of one of the two authorized coronavirus vaccines in the United States, announced it would develop and test a new vaccine tailored to block a similar mutation-riddled virus variant in case an updated shot becomes necessary.

The effort is a precautionary step. Evidence released [January 25] suggested that the Moderna vaccine will still work against two variants of concern that emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa. The plan highlights that the scientists who responded with unprecedented speed and success to develop coronavirus vaccines are already moving to address new challenges. It also amplifies the urgency of getting as many people immunized with current vaccines as quickly as possible.

“We need to double down on public health measures. The less a virus spreads, the less it’s going to mutate,” said Anthony S. Fauci.

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The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are especially well suited to rapid updates. Both use genetic material called messenger RNA that acts much like software, instructing the body’s cells how to build the spike protein found on the outside of the coronavirus. To update the vaccines, scientists have to rewrite the software to block the new target.

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