A nurse draws a vaccine for Moderna Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) on March 5, 2021 at the East Valley Community Health Center in La Puente, California.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The National Institutes of Health have started testing a new coronavirus vaccine from Moderna, which is designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa, the agency said on Wednesday.

According to the agency, the phase 1 study, which is led and funded by the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases of the NIH, will test in around 210 healthy adults how safe and effective the new shot is against the variant known as B.1.351 .

The study, which has already had some of the first vaccinations, will include approximately 60 adults who participated in Moderna’s original Covid-19 vaccine studies last year, as well as approximately 150 people who have not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine at one Statement.

Returning participants, who were given two syringes of the original vaccine 28 days apart at different doses early last year, will split up.

Some of them get a single booster shot with the new vaccine at a higher dose while others get the new vaccine at a lower dose, the statement said. Remaining participants will be offered a booster shot with the original vaccine “as part of a separate clinical trial protocol”.

Researchers will take blood samples from participants throughout the study, which can be tested against other circulating strains of the virus to see if the vaccine elicits an immune response.

The study will recruit volunteers in the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Seattle and Nashville, Tennessee areas and should be fully enrolled by the end of April, the agency said.

Variant B.1.351, first discovered in South Africa at the end of last year, has given scientists more cause for concern compared to other variants. The variant appears to spread more easily than the original “wild-type” strains, and research shows that it may evade some of the safeguards created by therapeutics and vaccines.

So far, 312 Covid-19 cases with variant B.1.351 have been identified in the United States, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Preliminary data shows that the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the US should provide adequate protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants,” said NIAID Director and Chief Medical Officer of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a statement.

“However, out of caution, NIAID has continued its partnership with Moderna to evaluate this variant vaccine candidate should an updated vaccine be required,” said Fauci.

The US Food and Drug Administration has already announced that it will accelerate the approval process for the updated vaccines, which target the problematic variants, so that no lengthy clinical trials are required.

However, an independent safety monitoring committee will continue to monitor the trials to ensure the shots are safe, the NIH statement said.