variant omicron | Moderna hopes to offer an updated vaccine in the fall

Moderna hopes to offer an updated COVID-19 booster vaccine this fall, combining its original vaccine with protection against the Omicron variant. The company on Tuesday reported preliminary evidence that such an approach might work.

Posted at 10:15am

Lauran Neergard
Associated Press

The currently available COVID-19 vaccines are all based on the original version of the virus. But the virus continues to mutate, with the super-contagious Omicron variant – and its subvariants – posing the latest threat.

Prior to Omicron’s arrival, Moderna was investigating a combination vaccine that offered added protection against an earlier variant called Beta. On Tuesday, the company said people who received the beta original combination vaccine produced more antibodies capable of fighting multiple variants – including Omicron – than the booster doses currently administered.

Although the antibody boost was modest, Moderna’s goal is to create a combo injection that specifically targets Omicron. “These results give us real hope” that the next step will work even better, said Dr.D Jacqueline Miller, Vice President of Moderna.

Tuesday’s data was reported online and has not been independently verified.

COVID-19 vaccines continue to offer strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, even from Omicron. This variant is so different from the original coronavirus that it more easily evades immune system defenses, although studies in the US and elsewhere suggest that a booster dose increases protection. Some countries offer a second booster to those who are particularly at risk.

Health officials have made it clear that giving booster shots every few months is not the answer to the virus. They began to consider how to decide if and when to change the vaccine prescription.

Simply switching to a vaccine that targets the latest variant is risky because the virus could mutate again. As a result, Moderna and competitor Pfizer are both testing what scientists call “bivalent” vaccines — a mix of both companies’ original vaccine and a version that targets Omicron.

Why would Moderna’s earlier combo dose targeting the beta variant have an impact on Omicron? That’s because it contains four mutations that the Beta and Omicron variants share, Ms.me miller.

Moderna is now testing a bivalent vaccine that better targets Omicron – it contains 32 mutations of this variant. Two booster dose studies are ongoing in the United States and United Kingdom; the results are expected at the end of June.

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