The Latest: Vaccines vs. the variants

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
3 min readJan 29, 2021


Dear Reader,

More infectious variants of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States. Most recently, the South Africa variant B.1.351 was detected in two people in South Carolina. As you can read here and below, some of the Covid-19 vaccine makers are confident their vaccines still work against the variants, and are already working on booster shots.

READ: How Vaccines Are Faring Against The Variants

This morning, data released from Johnson & Johnson showed that its one-dose vaccine has an efficacy rate of 72% against moderate to severe Covid-19 in the U.S., but a 57% efficacy rate in South Africa where the new variant is dominant.

This underscores the need for countries to continue vaccinating at a fast pace, and for people to keep up precautions to prevent infections until they are eligible to get a vaccine.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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A quick Q&A: Can immunocompromised people get a vaccine?

Yes, but vaccination isn’t as straightforward for people with immune issues, writes Yasmin Tayag. An immunocompromised person is someone who has a weakened immune system due to serious health conditions and/or medications (like someone undergoing chemotherapy), which makes them more vulnerable to illness and infection. There’s little data from the vaccine trials on the impact for immunocompromised people, but guidance says they can get vaccinated. The best course of action is to make a vaccination decision with a person’s health care professional so they can take their history and medications into account.

Read more here.

What we’re talking about on the Blog

Novavax releases promising data on its vaccine: On Thursday, Novavax said that an early analysis of its 15,000-person trial in Britain showed an efficacy of nearly 90%. However, as Yasmin reports, a study of about 4,000 people in South Africa suggested that its efficacy rate there is under 50%. The company is working on a version of its vaccine, possibly administered as a booster shot, that can address new variants.

Moderna is considering adding a booster shot to address variants: Early research has suggested that Moderna’s vaccine is less effective — though still effective — against the South Africa variant B.1.351. Moderna is looking into adding a booster shot to its current two-dose regimen and will explore a booster to specifically target B.1.351. The better news is Moderna’s vaccine fortunately doesn’t appear to be any less effective against B.1.1.7, the so-called U.K. variant. Read more.

The European Union’s vaccine rollout is not going well: In an act of solidarity and as a way to control cost, the European Union decided to manage its vaccine purchasing and negotiating as a single body. But as Elad Simchayoff writes, this decision has resulted in a very slow vaccine rollout that’s been hindered by bureaucracy. Read more here.

A few more smart reads

Antibody Drugs Could Act as a Temporary Covid-19 Vaccine

Health Hacks to Survive this Pandemic Winter

Pfizer CEO Says Science Will Prevail With Covid-19 Here to Stay (Bloomberg)



Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that