Moderna prepared to provide booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants by end of 2021

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said the company should be able to provide booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants and mutations by the end of this year, Reuters reported.

Speaking during a program for the Economic Club of New York, Zaks said the booster shots Moderna is testing show a confident level of protection against coronavirus variants, according to Reuters. 

In an interview with FOX Television Stations Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said concerning variants like the B.1.1.7 mutation that originated in the U.K. are a "wild card" factoring into the calculation of whether booster shots will be needed down the road. 

But he expressed confidence in current studies that indicate that some variants are no match for COVID-19 vaccines.

RELATED: Fauci says variants are ‘wild card’ in COVID-19 booster vaccine equation

Speaking in an interview Sunday on on "Meet the Press." Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, called the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus "A brand new ballgame."

Fauci agreed with Osterholm’s concerns about the rapidity with which the U.K. variant seems to spread, but expressed confidence in the vaccines’ effectiveness against it. 

But the effectiveness of existing vaccines against emerging variants is not guaranteed.

Fauci said that it is entirely "feasible" that there may not be a need for COVID-19 booster shots, but he said the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently planning for the worst.

"You want to be prepared in case you have to," Fauci said. "So we’re making the assumption that we’re going to have to boost people, but we may not have to."

In Connecticut, health officials are looking into the possibility of having to eventually administer booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccines in nursing homes, while also vaccinating new residents and staff who are coming into the facilities without having had a shot, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and a Connecticut resident, said Monday that it’s "quite likely that you’re going to want to give another dose of vaccine, at least to some portion of the population heading into the fall." He noted that the most vulnerable portions of the state’s population, people living in nursing homes and people over the age of 70, got their shots in December, January and early February.

According to a recent study from Pfizer, the company’s COVID-19 vaccine maintains more than 90% efficacy at six months after receiving the second dose. Moderna released similar findings on the efficacy of its own vaccine on Tuesday.

For many health care workers who were among the earliest vaccinated, the existing data on the length of vaccine efficacy paints an incomplete picture of how long they can expect to be fully protected against the virus. Fauci said it’s just too soon to tell.

"We don’t know the answer to that for the simple reason that we don't know what the durability of the protection against the standard virus is," Fauci said. "The most recent reports said at least six months but it might be much longer than it could be years for all we know."

Fauci said it is entirely conceivable that vaccinated people may need to get booster vaccines down the road, but he doesn’t yet know what the intervals will be between getting a vaccine and a potential booster shot — if booster shots ever come.

Fauci said there is still "a ways to go" before most vaccinated people need to start worrying about their vaccine’s efficacy diminishing substantively. "The idea is to prevent replication of the virus in order to avoid giving the virus a chance to mutate further and require an altered vaccine seasonally," he said.
Due to a lack of data, the NIH and the CDC aren’t currently working on rolling out guidance or messaging around booster vaccines, but if and when they’re needed, the vaccines will be there.

"We’re going to be stockpiling enough vaccines to be able to give boosters to people," Fauci said. "We’re also doing some clinical trials to see if you boost, what happens to the level of total antibodies, what happens to the level of antibodies against the variant, so we’re anticipating the need to be able to adjust to these variants that might arise, and we’re doing the clinical trials as well as purchasing more vaccine in case we do have to boost people."

As to what a potential COVID-19 vaccine booster could look like, Fauci said additional doses could be drawn from current vaccine stockpiles, but the NIH is currently testing a boost that would specifically target mutations of the virus.
If vaccine booster shots do become necessary, Fauci said it would be optimal for people to get the same vaccine they received the first time, but there are currently studies underway to see if individuals can mix and match vaccines down the road.
For now, Fauci said the goal should be getting as many people vaccinated as possible — not just in the U.S., but around the world.

"If we suppress it in the United States or in the developed world, that’s going to be great," Fauci said. "Now, this brings up an important question: As long as you have virus replicating anywhere in the world, the chances of developing variants are considerable, which will ultimately come back and could perhaps negatively impact our own response. That’s one of the real prevailing arguments for why we need to make sure the whole world gets vaccinated – not just the people in the developed world."

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.