Health Highlights: Jan. 25, 2021

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Effective Against British and South African Variants, Company Says

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine remains effective against two worrisome new coronavirus variants from Britain and South Africa, but it is somewhat less effective against the South African variant.

In response, the company says it is working on a new form of the vaccine to use as a booster shot against the South Africa variant.

“We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve should we need to,” Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told The New York Times. “I think of it as an insurance policy.”

He added, “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”

Moderna analyzed blood samples from eight people who’d received two doses of the company’s vaccine, and two monkeys that had also been immunized.

The British variant didn’t affect levels of virus-disabling neutralizing antibodies produced after vaccination, but levels were six times lower than normal with the South African variant, The Times reported.

Even so, antibodies in those with the South African variant “remain above levels that are expected to be protective,” according to Moderna.

The variant first detected in Britain is about twice as contagious as the new coronavirus identified in China a year ago, and scientists have started to believe it may also be more deadly, The Times reported.

Along with the British and South African variants, another one has arisen in Brazil.

The British variant has been detected in at least 20 U.S. states, but the other two variants haven’t been found in the country, The Times reported.

Severe Allergic Reactions to Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Rare: CDC

Only 10 people in the entire United States have had severe allergic reactions to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, out of more than 4 million who’ve received the first dose, a new government report shows.

That works out to a rate of 2.5 cases per 1 million doses administered, CNN reported.

All 10 severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) cases involving the Moderna vaccine occurred in women. Symptoms began a median of 7.5 minutes after vaccination. All patients that could be followed up with have recovered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It said that nine of the patients had a documented history of allergies and more than half of those nine had a previous history of anaphylaxis, CNN reported.

Only one of the patients had a prior allergic reaction to a vaccine, while the others had previous allergic reactions to triggers such as drugs and contrast agents used in some medical imaging, and one had a food allergy, the CDC said.

The agency previously reported that about 11 people out of every million who received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had a severe allergic reaction.

For comparison, the rate of anaphylaxis for the seasonal flu vaccine is 1.3 per 1 million doses, CNN reported.

U.S. to Get Fewer Vials of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine

Pfizer will provide fewer vials of its COVID-19 vaccine to the United States in the coming months after it was discovered that it had previously shipped extra doses.

In December, U.S. pharmacists found that they could get an extra dose out of Pfizer vials that were supposed to contain only five doses, The New York Times reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has agreed with Pfizer’s demand to formally acknowledge that those vials contained six doses instead of five.

That means that Pfizer will count the extra dose toward its previous commitment of 200 million doses for the U.S. by the end of July, and will provide fewer vials by that time than had been anticipated, the Times reported.

But pharmacists at some vaccination sites say it’s a challenge to reliably extract the extra dose out of vials. Doing so requires a specialty syringe.

“Now there’s more pressure to make sure that you get that sixth dose out,” Michael Ganio, senior director for pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, told the Times.

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