Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants of the virus that are emerging in different parts of the world. But in case the vaccines eventually need to be updated, manufacturers are working on how to tweak their recipes.
The variant sparking the most concern currently is one that first emerged in South Africa. Moderna said it has made doses of vaccine specifically targeted to that variant and shipped them to the National Institutes of Health for a study.
U.S. regulators say a revamped vaccine wouldn’t need to be studied for months in thousands of people. But it would need testing in several hundred people, to see if their immune systems react similarly to the updated shot as to the original.
Moderna said it also has begun testing whether simply giving a third dose of the original vaccine would offer an extra immune boost that could guard against variants, even if it’s not an exact match.
In a separate announcement, Moderna also said it plans to manufacture 700 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine globally this year, up from 600 million. The company also said it was making new manufacturing capacity investments that could yield 1.4 billion doses in 2022.