Moderna reported mostly good news on Monday about two new variants of the coronavirus, though the Washington Post sees an "ominous" red flag in the mix. In the undisputed good news, the company says preliminary studies suggest its COVID vaccine provides protection against fast-spreading variants of the virus first identified in Britain and South Africa, reports the New York Times. But here's the "ominous" part: The vaccine appears to be less effective at fighting the South African variant, which the company says may suggest “a potential risk of earlier waning of immunity to the new B.1.351 strains," per CNBC. In the results, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, researchers found a six-fold decrease in effectiveness on the South African variant.
The company says the resulting level of protection is still good enough, but it's working on improvements—including the development of a possible third shot to the two-dose regimen. “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t," Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, tells the Times. "I think of it as an insurance policy." Last week, Pfizer also reported early results suggesting its vaccine protected against the new variants, though not all the research on the South African version had been completed. Meanwhile, in what STAT News sees as a "major setback," drug-maker Merck has stopped developing its two COVID vaccines because of underwhelming results. Instead, the company will focus on COVID therapies. This only heightens the pressure on Johnson & Johnson and NovaVax for their own upcoming vaccine updates, notes STAT. (Read more Moderna stories.)