Moderna vaccine targeting South African variant to undergo clinical trials

The Moderna vaccine will be tested against the South African strain of Covid-19. Credit: PA

Moderna has produced a vaccine that works specifically against the South African variant of coronavirus, with trials due to start in the US.

The firm is experimenting with several potential methods of combating new variants of coronavirus, with a view to potentially offering new or booster shots.

It comes after studies suggested that current vaccines offer less protection against the South African variant, which has a key mutation – E484K – that is thought to help the virus evade parts of the immune system.

The mutation has been worrying scientists and is also found in the Brazil variant of the virus as well as some cases of the variant originally identified in Kent.

Moderna is looking at whether an additional booster shot targeting the South African variant could be given to people, and is working on a combined jab that mixes its current vaccine with the new one.

The UK has ordered 17 million doses of Moderna’s original vaccine, with delivery expected from the spring.

Doses of the latest shot to tackle the South African variant have been shipped to the US National Institutes of Health to prepare for a clinical trial, Moderna said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Professor Sarah Gilbert, from the University of Oxford, said current Covid-19 vaccines are unlikely to see a “cliff edge” fall in their effectiveness when faced with new variants.

She told MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee there are good signs that coronavirus variants will not suddenly start escaping from the effectiveness of vaccines.

Oxford and AstraZeneca are running clinical trials from the early summer with batches of their new vaccine aimed at tackling variants.

A decision will then be taken over the summer on whether booster jabs should be offered in the autumn to tackle variants.