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How are manufacturers making adjustments to COVID-19 vaccines?

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Pfizer-BioNTEch and Moderna have started working on booster doses for their vaccines because of concerns that current versions will be less effective against new, possibly more contagious, COVID-19 variants.  Pfizer-BioNTEch and Moderna vaccines are made using mRNA, which is like a genetic software code that can be updated relatively easily and quickly. Tweaking the vaccine can be done in a couple of days, but updated vaccine trials might require more time. The FDA's testing process and policy for the new booster shots is not yet known, but is expected to be publicized soon. Some experts suggest that the end result may look similar to the FDA's process for the flu vaccine, which changes every year but does not go through full-scale clinical trial phases every time an adjustment is made. Viral mutations are a common phenomenon in infectious diseases. COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers report that their vaccines work against the mutations identified in the U.K. and South Africa, but their laboratory studies suggest that the vaccines are less effective against the variant identified in South Africa.

This article was published on
February 4, 2021

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Pfizer-BioNTEch and Moderna have started working on booster doses for their vaccines because of concerns that current versions will be less effective against new, possibly more contagious, COVID-19 variants. 

Pfizer-BioNTEch and Moderna vaccines are made using mRNA, which is like a genetic software code that can be updated relatively easily and quickly. Tweaking the vaccine can be done in a couple of days, but updated vaccine trials might require more time. The FDA's testing process and policy for the new booster shots is not yet known, but is expected to be publicized soon. Some experts suggest that the end result may look similar to the FDA's process for the flu vaccine, which changes every year but does not go through full-scale clinical trial phases every time an adjustment is made.

Viral mutations are a common phenomenon in infectious diseases. COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers report that their vaccines work against the mutations identified in the U.K. and South Africa, but their laboratory studies suggest that the vaccines are less effective against the variant identified in South Africa.

Context and background

New coronavirus mutations have recently been identified in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), and Brazil (P.1). These variants are reported to spread more easily from person to person, leading to an increase in cases and hospitalizations in the  countries where the variants are prominent.

As the variants spread, there is mounting concern about how well the current coronavirus vaccines will work the viral mutations. Questions have been raised about the need for these vaccines to be modified to become effective against the new variants.

Manufacturers of the coronavirus vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson report that their coronavirus vaccines  work against the mutations identified in the U.K. and South Africa. Their laboratory studies that are awaiting peer-review, however, suggest that they may be slightly less effective on the new variant identified in South Africa.

Resources

  1. Labs Work On Modified Vaccines To Fight Covid Mutations (Kaiser Health News)
  2. New coronavirus variants accelerate race to make sure vaccines keep up (The Washington Post)
  3. First Moderna, now Pfizer-BioNTech working on booster shot amid rise of COVID-19 variants (Fierce Pharma)
  4. The Coronavirus is Mutating: How Fast Will Vaccines Catch Up? (Healthline)
  5. What do the new COVID-19 variants mean for vaccine development? (GAVI)

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