How Is Moderna’s COVID Vaccine Holding Up Against Variants?

The biggest COVID-19 story right now is the rise of new coronavirus strains, especially the highly contagious Delta variant. Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) recently reported data about its COVID vaccine and several coronavirus variants. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on June 30, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss these results and what they might mean for investors.

Keith Speights: Moderna provided an update on Tuesday about how its COVID-19 vaccine generates neutralizing antibodies against several coronavirus variants, including most of the ones that have made the news recently.

Brian, what are the key takeaways for investors from Moderna’s latest update?

Brian Orelli: These are tests, and we’ve talked about them before, where you take the antibodies from sera of people. These were taken from people one week after they got their second shot of the Moderna vaccine.

They’d previously tested this exact same sera on the Alpha variant that was discovered in the U.K. and the Beta variant that was discovered in South Africa. This new study showed a modest reduction in neutralizing antibody levels against the Delta variant that was discovered in India as well as the Gamma and Kappa.

Reduction for the Delta, Gamma, and Kappa was actually less than what they had previously seen for the Beta variant. So this is good news, especially for people who don’t want to get a booster.

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It’s probably mixed results for Moderna. It could mean that fewer sales if we don’t need the boosters, but it could also set up Moderna as a go-to vaccine if the others falter with the variants. So it depends on what the future variants look like, as well as whether its competitors are able to protect against those variants.

Speights: Brian, how trustworthy is this kind of data? Neutralizing antibody levels — can we count on Moderna’s vaccine being really effective against these variants because of these higher neutralizing antibodies or does more testing need to be done before we know that for sure?

Orelli: I think it’s a decent proxy for actual protection against infection. But remember, we’re talking about short-term protection from antibody production versus long-term protection from B cell production. This is only really measuring short-term protection, let’s say a few months after you get the vaccine versus long-term protection, which just comes from B cells.

I’m not sure how much you can read into this on whether this means that we’re not going to need boosters against the variants, and also, whether it’s going to protect you against the next variant is a big mystery, too.

Speights: We should note that at least from Moderna’s executives’ public comments, the company fully expects that we will need booster shots for the variants. In fact, they’re conducting clinical tests on a variant-specific version of their vaccine. Even with these results, Moderna, at least publicly, seems to think that we’re going to need booster doses.

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Orelli: Of course, the third issue here is even if it’s not providing full protection and if you’re getting a mild case of COVID-19, then there’s a trade-off there. What are the symptoms of getting COVID-19 versus the side effects of getting the vaccine? If it’s a mild case, maybe that changes the risk-reward benefit one way or the other.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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