The National Institutes of Health has begun early-stage clinical trials of an investigational coronavirus vaccine from Moderna intended to protect against a strain of the virus first discovered in South Africa.
The phase one trial is led and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The trial will enroll approximately 210 healthy adult volunteers at four clinical research sites across the country, in the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Nashville and Seattle areas.
According to the agency, the trial will enroll about 60 people ages 18 years and older who already received Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine from last year’s phase one trials, as well as about 150 others ages 18 through 55 years who have not received any COVID-19 vaccine.
Moderna earlier this month said it had begun vaccinating the group of 60.
Investigators anticipate the trial will be fully enrolled by the end of April.
The B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, has been detected in at least nine states.
“Preliminary data show that the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States should provide an adequate degree of protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants. However, out of an abundance of caution, NIAID has continued its partnership with Moderna to evaluate this variant vaccine candidate should there be a need for an updated vaccine,” NIAID director and White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci said in a statement.
The variant appears to spread easier than the original strain, and research indicates it can possibly evade some of the protections generated by therapeutics and vaccines.
Moderna said studies have shown its original vaccine can protect against the variants, but there is still a six-fold reduction in the level of antibodies produced against the South African strain.
The Food and Drug Administration has previously said lengthy trials are not needed, and the agency will work to expedite the authorization process for any updated vaccines that target variants.