New Covid-19 Strains to Emerge in 6 Months, Booster Shots Will Be Needed: Moderna CEO

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Moderna CEO on Thursday said new coronavirus strains are likely to emerge and countries will be required to get booster shots of the two-dose covid-19 vaccine as the southern hemisphere heads toward winter months from June.

"New variants of concern continue to emerge around the world. And we believe that over the next six months, as the Southern Hemisphere enters the fall and winter, we could see more variants of concern emerge,” CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC. "We believe booster shots will be needed as we believe the virus is not going away,” he added.

The comment comes a day after Moderna announced a third dose of either its current COVID-19 shot or an experimental new vaccine candidate increases immunity against variants of COVID-19 first found in Brazil and South Africa.

The booster shots, given to volunteers previously inoculated with Moderna’s two-dose vaccine regimen, also boosted antibodies against the original version of COVID-19, Moderna said.

The early data comes from a 40-person trial testing both Moderna’s existing shot and a version developed to protect against the South African variant of COVID-19 called mRNA-1273.351. Moderna is also studying a shot 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 of COVID-19 tested in the trial, the new booster had a bigger response against the South African variant than the original vaccine.

“We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective” against the newer variants of COVID-19, Bancel said in a statement. 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.

The new variants of COVID-19 first discovered in South Africa and Brazil are thought to be more resistant to existing vaccines.

Moderna raised its 2021 sales forecast for its COVID-19 shot by 4.3% to $19.2 billion on Thursday, reflecting demand from countries looking to return to normalcy through rapid vaccine rollouts. Deals for “booster” doses, nations looking to stock up supplies for 2022 and beyond and a likely authorization for use of the vaccines in kids have led Moderna and its larger rival Pfizer to ramp up their supplies.

Moderna had in February forecast vaccine sales of $18.4 billion. In the first quarter ended March 31, its vaccine brought in sales of $1.7 billion, helping the drugmaker record a profit for the first time ever.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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