Thursday 6 May 2021 9:15 am

Tweaked Moderna vaccine 'effective' against new Covid variants

Moderna’s “tweaked” vaccine against new Covid variants that emerged in South Africa and Brazil has successfully neutralised them in laboratory trials, the US company announced last night.

Data from a small-scale trial of 40 patients showed that a third dose of either its current coronavirus jab or an experimental new vaccine candidate increases immunity against the new Covid mutations.

The announcement marks the first results from a coronavirus vaccine especially adapted to tackle emerging coronavirus variants, in a race including other leading companies such as Pfizer/Biontech and Astrazeneca.

“We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants,” said Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel.

The variant-specific vaccine performed better than the a booster shot of the Moderna jab in eradicating the new Covid mutations, producing almost twice as many neutralising antibodies.

The US biotech firm is also developing a third type of booster, made up of a combination of the two other types. It plans to announce trial results soon.

It comes after the government yesterday announced it will step up its efforts to fight coronavirus variants by doubling the capacity of its Porton Down laboratories to test vaccines against new strains.

Health secretary Matt Hancock unveiled a fresh £30m investment in new labs that will assess the effectiveness of vaccines against so-called “variants of concern”, amid worries that progress with the UK vaccine rollout could be undermined by new mutations.

There are four so-called “variants of concern” in the UK, including B117, first identified in Kent, which is now the most dominant strain of Covid in the UK. The others include B1351 from South Africa, P1 from Brazil. and a separate form of the B117 strain that includes the E484K mutation.

Scientists are currently studying whether a new Indian Covid strain of coronavirus should also be classified as a variant of concern.

The B1617 variant has been linked to the enormous surge in infections in India, which now account for around half the global total.

The country reported a record 412,000 daily infections and 3,980 coronavirus-related deaths yesterday.