New data from Moderna Inc’s large scale COVID-19 vaccine trial shows that protection offered by the two mRNA jabs lessens over time. The COVID vaccine supplier believes waning protection could be cause to introduce booster jabs and has now applied to the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to do so.
Moderna reveals vaccine protection lessens over time
In a news release on Wednesday, the company said that this give in COVID protection could be hugely impactful over the colder months, resulting in a predicted 600,000 more cases. Moderna President Stephen Hoge revealed to investors during a conference call:
This is only one estimate, but we do believe this means as you look toward the fall and winter, at minimum we expect the estimated impact of waning immunity would be 600,000 additional cases of COVID-19.
Wednesday’s release showed that COVID cases amongst vaccinated people were higher for those who had received the jabs 13 months ago than those who inoculated roughly eight months ago. However, the pre-print has yet to be peer-reviewed.
The analysis made use of 16,747 volunteers vaccinated between July and October 2020. Researchers then compared the performance with 11,431 others initially in the placebo group and then offered protection between December 2020 and March 2021.
Researchers idenitified 88 COVID cases among those who were more recently vaccinated in the two months from July-August. Meanwhile, 162 cases were detected among those who were vaccinated last year.
From the trial, a total of 19 cases were marked as severe, a critical factor in assessing the protection over time. The pre-print also revealed a 'numerical trend toward a lower rate of severe cases in the groups vaccinated more recently.'
Data from the recent trial offers a new perspective than those before it, suggesting that Moderna’s jab provided more protection than others. This was likely due to Moderna’s higher dose of mRNA and the longer recommended interval between the two shots.
Hoge stresses that the Moderna vaccine still provides significant protection against coronavirus, but if left unaddressed, waning protection could turn into a larger issue:
If we imagine there are going to be additional surges in infections through the fall ... we’re going to see continued transmission, and if that waning immunity is not addressed may become a more significant concern.
Moderna makes a case for COVID booster shots
At the start of September, Moderna applied to the FDA for authorisation to administer third COVID jabs, known as booster shots.
Hoge revealed that the latest data supported that a booster shot would increase levels of neutralising antibodies:
We believe this will reduce COVID-19 cases. We also believe that a third dose of mRNA-1273 has a chance of significantly extending immunity throughout much of next year as we attempt to end the pandemic.
Pfizer has also applied to the FDA booster shot authorisation. And, while the FDA admits that a third dose may offer higher immunity, it is still unsure whether such jabs will be necessary. The FDA will be taking into account multiple factors such as the ability to prevent hospitalisation and death as well as the immune response and how the third shot could affect the country’s current pandemic dynamics. The FDA is now waiting on advice from outside experts set to discuss the issue on Friday.