Mutations of COVID-19 identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa appear more contagious.
New data shows that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine protects against the two known variants of the virus discovered in Britain and South Africa.
The two variants have caused concern, because they appear to spread more efficiently than the original. And if the new vaccines weren’t able to protect against them, they could become obsolete before they have been fully rolled out. Additionally, some data suggests that the British variant could be slightly more deadly.
“We’ve been informed that in addition to spreading more quickly there is some evidence that the new variant… may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week.
Patrick Vallance, who serves as the United Kingdom’s chief scientific advisor noted that the increase in mortality is slight.
“If you took… a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” he said on Friday.
The United States is struggling under the weight of another surge of COVID-19 infections. In total the US has recorded 25 million coronavirus cases and more than 400,000 deaths. Experts predict the country could see an excess of 600,000 deaths.
The British variant is already in the United States. Modeling by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that it has been discovered in at least 22 states and could become the predominant strain in the United States by March.
Current data suggests that the Moderna vaccine will protect against the new variant but the efficacy of the shot was diminished, according to the company. As a precaution the company has begun designing a new potential vaccine that could be added to the current two-dose inoculation.
Moderna also announced two new studies: the addition of a third shot and early human tests of a vaccine specific to the South African variant.
Currently, studies show that vaccines protect against the variants and original strain of COVID-19, but experts continue to stress the importance of wearing masks, social distancing from other people, and proper hand washing to slow the spread of the virus.