By ERIC M. STRAUSS and MARK OSBORNE, ABC News

(LONDON) — Moderna, which produces one of two vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., said Wednesday it has shipped a vaccine modified to fight the so-called South African variant of the virus to the National Institutes of Health for testing.

The company said the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH, will conduct a phase one trial to determine if the modified vaccine boosts immunity against the variant, which has caused concerns due to being more resistant to the current vaccines.

“We look forward to beginning the clinical study of our variant booster and are grateful for the NIH’s continued collaboration to combat this pandemic,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge. Leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic.”

Moderna said last month that a six-fold reduction in protection was noted for the South African variant versus other strains of the virus, but also said the neutralizing antibodies created by the vaccine “remain above levels that are expected to be protective.”

Moderna said the booster, if necessary and if approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, could be “provided to the global community in late 2021 and 2022.”

The pharmaceutical company said it is taking a three-pronged approach to the variant testing. In addition to the variant-specific booster candidate, it is testing a combination of the current vaccine and the new booster and, finally, a third dose of the current vaccine.

Moderna also said its current vaccine still works well against variants and the testing is precautionary.

In addition to the news about testing for the South African variant, Moderna announced it is stepping up production of its currently authorized vaccine — now being injected around the U.S.

“We believe from our discussions with governments around the world that there will continue to be significant demand for our COVID-19 vaccine and we now are committed to materially increasing our manufacturing capacity,” Bancel said in a statement.

“We expect our additional capital investments to drive our capacity to 1.4 billion doses for 2022, assuming the current 100 μg dose,” he added. “If our variant vaccine booster requires a lower dose, such as 50 μg, we could have more than 2 billion doses of capacity for 2022.”

Moderna is increasing its plan from delivering 600 million doses in 2021 to 700 million.

The company has shipped 55 million doses to the U.S. government to date, it said.

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