Moderna CEO Says We Need to Do This to Avoid Another COVID Surge

If enough people don't get behind this, the pandemic will only get worse.

COVID cases are starting to come down after a serious post-holiday surge, but experts are already warning that we need to prepare for the possibility of spikes down the line. The spread of new, more infectious strains is likely to lead to a significant uptick without major precautions being implemented. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel thinks the vaccine could help lighten the load. Bancel recently stressed the importance of getting as many people vaccinated as soon as possible, so that a booster shot will be available to increase immunity before another seasonal surge. Keep reading for his insight on avoiding future outbreaks, and for more vaccine news, Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Just Gave This Upsetting Update.

Bancel wants people to be vaccinated by the fall.

Senior woman getting a vaccine from her doctor in her home during a house visit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
FatCamera / iStock

During an interview with Yahoo Finance on Jan. 25, Bancel made it clear that he was focused on fall. Although the vaccine rollout is still in its infancy, the CEO was looking ahead. The autumn season is when respiratory viruses spread more readily, so Bancel wants the U.S. to be prepared. "The thing we want to be ready for is the fall," said Bancel. "We don't have to go again through a dreadful winter like we're going through now."

In order to be prepared to avoid another fall or winter surge, he believes that the bulk of vaccinations should be done by the fall to limit the number of people getting infected. It's also essential that people get vaccinated so that they are able to receive booster shots in the winter as needed.

These modified versions of the vaccine would combat the new strains, which could cause a surge in cases. The U.K. experienced a spike from one fast-spreading mutation of coronavirus, and now that variant is in the U.S. A Jan. 15 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report predicted that by March, the U.K. variant will become the dominant strain in the U.S. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The Moderna booster to address new COVID strains is in development.

Young team doing coronavirus research
janiecbros / iStock

Moderna recently did a study on how their vaccine interacts with the more transmissible strains of COVID, and concluded that while the vaccine is protective against the U.K. strain, the South Africa variant of the virus causes a "six-fold reduction" in the creation of antibodies, which makes the vaccine less effective. In response to this discovery, Moderna decided to begin developing a booster shot. The booster would not only aid in protecting against the South Africa strain, but it could also bolster immunity. The latter may prove necessary depending on how long the vaccine's protection against COVID lasts.

"This was all decided in the last few days," Bancel told Yahoo Finance. "We met with the team several times between the weekend, talked with the board, and decided this was the prudent thing to do—which [White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD] confirmed to me yesterday as I was engaging with him." And for more on the future of the pandemic, The Moderna CEO Just Made This Scary Prediction About COVID.

It's not yet clear how necessary the booster shot will be.

Senior woman wearing protective face mask sitting in doctor's office and waiting for COVID vaccination
zoranm / iStock

Since the vaccine hasn't been around for a year, experts are unsure how long the original doses will keep you immune to COVID. "Nobody … knows how long the protection will last," Bancel said. He pointed out that there's a particular concern about how durable the vaccine-induced immunity will be over time for the elderly population. If the vaccine doesn't prove to maintain its efficacy throughout the year, then the booster shot will be essential in strengthening immunity.

And, of course, the booster may prove necessary to combat the spread of more infectious strains. While the South Africa strain has yet to be detected in the U.S., a similar Brazil strain was recently found.

Tal Zaks, MD, Moderna's chief medical officer, told The New York Times, that the company is creating the booster shot "today to be ahead of the curve should we need to. I think of it as an insurance policy." Whether the booster is necessary could be determined by antibody blood tests or by monitoring the vaccinated population to see if those people begin to get COVID. And for more on staying safe from coronavirus, This One Type of Face Mask Is "Unacceptable," Warns the Mayo Clinic.

The booster shot should be developed faster than the original vaccine.

Scientist in lab wearing safety gear

Bancel said the goal is for the booster shots to be lower doses so a larger supply could be achieved faster. "You could potentially have up to eight times more product as a boost," Bancel said. The current two-shot vaccine requires 100 micrograms to be effective while the booster would only require 50 or 25 micrograms, "which is possible because your immune system is already prepared," Bancel explained.

Moderna intends to begin studies on the booster in March and then begin trials over the summer with the prior year's Phase 3 participants, according to Yahoo Finance. The booster shots could then emerge in time to deal with decreased immunity and the proliferation of new COVID strains. And for more vaccine news, These Are the Side Effects of the New Johnson & Johnson Vaccine.

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