Vaccine rollout in the U.S. has had a successful run over the last few months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 136 million people in the U.S. have already been fully vaccinated against COVID. Still, however, there's concern over emerging variants, with five variants of concern already circulating in the U.S. that experts are worried could be more transmissible and more likely to evade current vaccines. Luckily, vaccine manufacturers have been working to find new ways to fight these variants, and any others that may emerge down the line. In fact, Moderna just announced a big change to its vaccine to do just that—and it could affect your COVID vaccination in 2022.
Moderna has been collaborating with Swiss-based drugmaker Lonza since May 2020, but they just announced on June 2 that they are expanding the collaboration by creating a new production line at the Lonza Geleen facility in the Netherlands—and with a significant change to the Moderna vaccine. According to the announcement, the new production line will make ingredients for up to 300 million doses annually at 50 micrograms per dose, which means they are halving the current vaccine dosage.
Moderna has been delivering doses at an approved 100 micrograms per dose in both the U.S. and Europe. But, a Moderna spokesperson told Reuters following the announcement of Lonza's new production, "We're assuming that as of 2022, we are going to have a mix of dose levels on the market."
Reuters says the biotech company has long been studying lower-dose versions of its vaccine—initially in order to stretch vaccine supply. CBS reported in January that the U.S. was considering cutting Moderna vaccine doses in half to speed the vaccine rollout. At the time, Moncef Slaoui, the former head of federal vaccine program Operation Warp Speed under the Trump administration, told Face the Nation that a half dose of Moderna's vaccine "induces identical immune response" to the full dose. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never ended up approving the change.
But while half doses are no longer needed to speed up vaccine rollout in the U.S., they may be the right choice to fight vaccine variants. Moderna recently indicated that half doses showed promising results in terms of booster shots for emerging variants. The biotech company said in a May 5 report that a single booster dose of 50 micrograms proved to increase neutralizing antibody responses in previously vaccinated clinical trial participants against two variants of concern: South Africa variant B.1.351 and Brazil variant P.1.
"We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
According to Reuters, not only will half doses be considered for variant-targeting booster shots, but lower doses may also be given to children who might not require a full 100 microgram-dose.