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The UK is in the process of preparing for a round of third “booster” jabs across autumn for the over 50s, according to reports, with ministers hopeful such an effort could see the virus rates become manageable in a manner similar to influenza.
Now a small human study conducted by Moderna - the firm behind one of the three jabs in circulation in the country - has suggested its immunisations helped candidates increase their immunity against variants of concern.
The booster shots were given to volunteers previously inoculated with Moderna’s two-dose vaccine regimen.
The early data is the result of a 40-person trial that tested both Moderna’s existing shot and a version developed to protect against the South African variant of Covid called mRNA-1273.351.
The firm is also working towards a jab that combines both the new and existing vaccine.
The results show that while booster shots of either version of the vaccine increased antibodies against all of the variants tested in the trial, the new booster had a bigger response against the South African variant than the original vaccine.
Stephane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, said: “As we seek to defeat the ongoing pandemic, we remain committed to being proactive as the virus evolves.
“We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants.
He added: “Our mRNA platform allows for rapid design of vaccine candidates that incorporate key virus mutations, potentially allowing for faster development of future alternative variant-matched vaccines should they be needed.”
Both booster shots were well tolerated, with side effects similar to what volunteers in previous studies experienced from the second dose of its vaccine, Moderna said.
It comes as trials are underway to assess the most effective way to immunise those in the most vulnerable age brackets in the UK across the autumn months to stop another spike in cases over winter.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said scientists are looking at a range of options, including new jabs to protect against variants or mixing the types of injections given, so if a patient had AstraZeneca for their initial doses they could be given Pfizer as a booster.
“We want them to be able, if they need to, from September onwards to boost those that are most vulnerable,” Mr Zahawi said.
The government has already ordered 60 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in preparation for a booster campaign.
Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “Pfizer is one option, we’re going to give them an AstraZeneca option, we’re working with the team on a vaccine variant.
“Clinicians haven’t yet made the decision when they will need to boost, whether to give more immunity to the most vulnerable, to increase the durability of the protection or to deal with the variant.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam is conducting a clinical trial to look at “which vaccine delivers the best boost”, Mr Zahawi said.
Additional reporting by agencies