This Is How Much Moderna's Booster Protects You Against New COVID Variants

A new study sheds light on how effective the latest shot is against the newest versions of the virus.

In many ways, the public appears ready to fully move past the COVID pandemic and get back to life as it was before the disease began to spread. But the virus is still taking a serious toll as it circulates through the population, posing a serious health problem to many of those it infects. The pathogen itself has also kept the medical community on its toes, with each new subvariant creating new challenges for immunity against the disease—not to mention the fact that it's been well over a year since highly effective vaccines were released that helped curb some of the disease's worst outcomes. Supplemental shots are now rolling out to carry on the fight and keep the public safe. Now, new research shows just how much Moderna's latest booster can protect against latest COVID variants. Read on to see what the new shot can do for you.

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COVID is still spreading at a considerable rate in the U.S.

A young woman swabbing her nose for an at-home COVID test in front of her tablet

After two and a half years living under a pandemic, most of us are eager to put this virus behind us. However, there's still plenty of evidence to suggest that it's still having a serious effect on the population. Even though numbers have been decreasing since a summertime surge has tapered off, the U.S. is still reporting an average of 54,239 new COVID infections per day as of Sept. 25, according to data from The New York Times. And while hospitalization and death rates from the virus are much lower than at the height of the pandemic, the national daily averages are still at 29,835 and 432, respectively.

Much of this has been exacerbated by the virus's evolution to a new, highly transmissible form. Research shows new subvariants BA.4 or BA.5. are four times as resistant to antibodies from vaccines than the previously dominant BA.2, even though the shots still significantly help protect against severe illness and death, according to a study published in July in the journal Science. Fortunately, vaccine makers have retooled their supplemental shots to make them more effective against the latest offshoots. Now, new data shows what kind of protection these boosters can offer.

A new study sheds light on how much Moderna's latest booster can protect you from COVID.

A scientist completing a study in a lab looking into a microscope while wearing full protective gear

In a new study published on Sept. 16 in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at health data from 374 patients who had a second shot of the original Moderna booster shot mRNA-1273 and 435 who received the latest version, mRNA-1273.214, at least three months after their last booster. The team points out that the new "bivalent" shot contains two mRNA strands, including one for the original strain of the virus and another that specifically targets the BA.1 Omicron variant, while mRNA-1273 focuses solely on the original strain.

Over the course of the study, results found that 11 participants who received the updated booster—or 2.5 percent—contracted the virus, while nine—or 2.4 percent—of patients who had received the original shot tested positive for the virus. The study notes that no participants were hospitalized or visited the emergency room due to the virus.

The team concluded that the updated shot "elicited neutralizing antibody responses against Omicron that were superior to those with mRNA-1273, without evident safety concerns" 28 days after it was received. They added that "the magnitude of the difference in the responses exceeded the recommended superiority criteria."

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Previous studies have found the new Moderna shots to be relatively effective against the latest subvariants.

General practitioner vaccinating old patient at home with copy space. Doctor giving injection to senior woman at home. Nurse holding syringe and using cotton before make Covid-19 or coronavirus vaccine.

This isn't the first research into how effective the fourth shot can be. In June, Moderna ran initial tests of its updated booster before receiving approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), with data finding that it produced "lasting protection against the whole family of Omicron variants," Reuters reports. The updated shot was eventually approved for use earlier this month.

"This is a strong, powerful antibody response," Paul Burton, chief medical officer for Moderna, said at a news conference. "It is probably long-lasting, and I think the conclusions are that boosting or primary vaccination with (the updated vaccine) really could be a turning point in our fight against SARS-CoV-2 virus."

Health officials echoed the study's findings. "It is reasonable to expect, based on what we know about immunology and the science of this virus, that these new vaccines will provide better protection against infection, better protection against transmission, and ongoing and better protection against serious illness," Ashish Jha, MD, the White House's COVID-19 coordinator, said during a news conference earlier this month.

Researchers have also emphasized the safety of the latest version of the vaccine, even though the new bivalent offering includes a new formula. "Officials explained in a press conference that they have extensive experience with strain changes for annual influenza vaccines, which also do not require clinical trials," H. Dirk Sostman, MD, chief academic officer of Houston Methodist Hospital, said in an interview. "In fact, the ability to tailor a vaccine to the currently circulating viral variant is one of the great advantages of the mRNA vaccine technology."

Few people have opted to get their supplemental jabs yet.

Photo of doctor update information about patient before vaccination.

While research supports that the latest boosters can provide ample protection against COVID variants, the rollout is off to a slow start. Data shows that only 4.4 million Americans have opted to receive the new booster so far, Market Watch reports. But officials said it would likely only be a matter of time before more people show up for the new jab.

"I do expect this to pick up in the weeks ahead," Jha recently said, per Market Watch. "We've been thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine season picks up in late September and early October. We're just getting our education campaign going. So we expect to see, despite the fact that this was a strong start, we actually expect this to ramp up stronger."

And even though the latest Moderna booster will provide increased protection against the latest variants, experts point out that we will likely have to get used to a reasonably regular update for the time being. "It's not clear yet how often boosters will be needed, but many experts say it's reasonable to expect that—at least for the next few years while we continue to build the 'immunity wall' against COVID-19—COVID-19 shots could be given on an annual schedule like the flu shot, a vaccine we're already accustomed to changing yearly," Sostman said.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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