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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Photo: Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group/Daily Local News via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday announced they have launched a study to evaluate whether a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine can protect against new variants of the virus.

Why it matters: Vaccine makers are racing to find effective ways to fight more infectious virus variants. There is no evidence that the current vaccines are not effective against the new variants, but companies are looking for ways to adapt to new mutations in case it becomes necessary.

  • Unlike Pfizer, Moderna made a modified vaccine targeting the South Africa strain and shipped doses to U.S. government researchers to begin testing.
  • Oxford and AstraZeneca said that a new version of their vaccine to fight the highly infectious South Africa variant could become available in the fall.

Details: Pfizer and BioNTech will offer a third vaccine dose to 144 people who received two doses in the early-testing stages and were vaccinated six months to a year ago.

  • Participants will be between the ages of 18 and 55, as well as 65 through 85.
  • Researchers will evaluate the participants' ability to neutralize new strains at the time they receive the dose, a week later, and and a month later. The participants will also continue to be studied for up to two years.
  • The companies did not say when results could be expected, but Pfizer R&D chief Mikael Dolsten said results could come around early summer during an earnings call, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Worth noting: Pfizer and BioNTech said they were in discussion with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in case a new vaccine version would be necessary to protect against the South Africa strain.

  • But, but, but: Experts told STAT that since the variants were not completely resistant to the vaccine, a new booster dose should be enough to offer more protection.

Go deeper: FDA says modified vaccines for COVID variants would not require large clinical trials

Go deeper

Feb 24, 2021 - Health

Moderna says vaccine for South Africa COVID-19 variant ready for testing

A doctor drawing the Moderna vaccine into syringes in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on Feb. 13. Photo: Joseph Prezioso

Vaccine producer Moderna announced Wednesday it is sending doses of a new vaccine designed to better protect against the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa to the National Institutes of Health for a Phase 1 clinical trial.

Why it matters: The trial is a major step toward producing and distributing a vaccine specifically designed for the South Africa variant, which may spread faster and more easily than the original coronavirus strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feb 24, 2021 - Health

White House to send 25 million free masks to America's most vulnerable

Anthony Fauci wears a protective mask while listening to President Biden. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will send more than 25 million masks to more than 1,300 community health centers and 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens in order to reach some Americans most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Why it matters: Many studies show wearing tightly fit masks, and even double-masking, is effective to curb the spread of COVID-19 when social distancing is not possible.

United CEO is confident people will feel safe traveling again by 2022

Axios' Joann Muller and United CEO Scott Kirby. Photo: Axios

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby believes that people will feel safe traveling again by this time next year, depending on the pace of vaccinations and the government's ongoing response to the pandemic, he said at an Axios virtual event.

Why it matters: Misery for global aviation is likely to continue and hold back a broader economic recovery if nothing changes, especially with new restrictions on international border crossings. U.S. airlines carried about 60% fewer passengers in 2020 compared with 2019.

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