Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is one of two that have been authorized for emergency use to fight the pandemic across the US. The other vaccine available is from Pfizer.
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  • Moderna said its current coronavirus shot can probably protect people against variants of the disease first found in South Africa and the UK.
  • But the shot showed lower levels of antibodies in lab testing against the South African variant. 
  • Moderna is now developing a new version of its vaccine tailored to that viral strain.
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Moderna's coronavirus vaccine is likely still protective against a viral strain first found in South Africa, but the Massachusetts biotech said Monday it plans to soon start testing a booster shot tailored to protect people against that variant. 

Moderna's two-dose Covid-19 vaccine won US authorisation in December and has since been rolled out to millions of people. A large-scale study last year found the shot was overwhelmingly protective against Covid-19, being about 94% effective at preventing symptomatic disease. 

See also: SA’s 501.V2 coronavirus variant is now in at least 23 countries – and that isn’t all bad

New lab research from Moderna and its partner scientists at the US National Institutes of Health found the shot generated less of an immune response against the South African strain. That research hasn't been published yet in a medical journal, but Moderna said it believes the shot is still protective, at least in the short-term. 

"These lower titers may suggest a potential risk of earlier waning of immunity to the new B.1.351 strains," Moderna stated in a Monday press release, referring to the South African strain by its scientific name.

Given the results, Moderna will soon start additional clinical trials. This research will test giving another booster shot of its current vaccine, as well as a booster shot tailor-made to neutralize the South African variant. 

See also: SA Covid-19 variant appears to evade antibody drugs, which is 'very concerning' - ex-FDA chief

It's unclear when the human research would start, as Moderna said the variant-specific vaccine still needs to go through some preclinical testing.

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