Moderna COVID-19 vaccine protects against UK, South African variants

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine has been made available to some on the Eastern Shore and throughout Maryland.

EASTON — Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine, which is used by the Talbot County Health Department for vaccinations, protects against the two new coronavirus variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

In a news release Monday, the company said its existing vaccine triggers antibodies that recognize and can fight the new variants, though it warned more studies need to be done to determine and potentially improve its efficacy.

The biotechnology company will begin testing an additional booster dose of its vaccine on the emerging strains and said it is advancing a newly developed vaccine booster specific to the South African variant into preclinical studies.

Of Moderna’s announcement Monday, Acting Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Maria Maguire said while it is encouraging, people should not be letting their guard down against any strain of the contagious coronavirus.

“Even with promising vaccines, it is still critically important to be diligent about mask-wearing and avoiding gatherings and crowds, even with people who you assume are not infected,” Maguire told The Star Democrat.

The acting health officer pointed out that the two new strains are more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the variants “seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.”

“Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death,” the CDC wrote on its website. “However, an increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.”

The U.K. variant, known as B117, has been detected in the U.S., but the South African variant, known as B1351, has not. There is also a separate new variant first identified in Brazil, called P1, that just made its debut in the U.S. in Minnesota on Monday.

According to CDC data updated Monday evening, there are four confirmed cases of the U.K. strain in Maryland, and 195 confirmed cases across the U.S.

“We have to continue to use our defensive measures to contain their spread since it will take a while for vaccination efforts to reach a level of herd immunity at which community spread is diminished,” Maguire said.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, said in a statement Monday the company is “encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants.”

“As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves,” Bancel said.

The Maryland Department of Health reported 3,848 Talbot County residents had received a first dose of vaccine as of Monday morning, accounting for 10.3% of the county’s population.

Talbot County is still in Phase 1B of vaccinations, but has opened pre-registration to Phase 1C recipients. To pre-register for vaccination, visit https://talbotcovid19.org/ and fill out the form labeled for the appropriate group.

Vaccine supply currently exceeds demand, Maguire has said, and the forms are only to identify residents who would like to get vaccinated so that the health department can reach out to schedule vaccination appointments when supply and scheduling permit.

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