Moderna says COVID vaccine offers protection against BA.2.86 ‘Pirola’ variant 

Moderna’s updated COVID-19 vaccine for this fall provides a strong immune response to the BA.2.86 “Pirola” subvariant, according to new clinical data from the company.

The updated COVID-19 vaccines are expected to roll out some time this month.

Regulators earlier this year chose the XBB omicron subvariant as the strain that vaccine manufacturers should target, as its descendants were and continue to be the most widely circulating in the U.S.

Pirola, however, is descended from the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which has led to concerns that the upcoming immunizations may not be as effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautioned last month that BA.2.86 may be better at causing breakthrough infections, though it remains to be seen if it causes more severe illness.

Moderna on Wednesday said its newer shot in fact induced an 8.7-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies against the Pirola strain. Previously released data from Moderna indicated that its shot is highly effective against EG.5 and FL 1.5.1, the two most widely circulating strains in the U.S. right now.

“Taken together with our previously communicated results showing a similarly effective response against EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants, these data confirm that our updated COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be an important tool for protection as we head into the fall vaccination season,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in a statement.

While the Pirola variant does not account for even 1 percent of cases in the U.S. yet, concerns have risen due to the more than 30 mutations found in the virus.

The World Health Organization has designated the Pirola strain as a variant under monitoring, meaning it has mutations that might give it an advantage over others but more information is still needed.

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