New version of Moderna vaccine approved in UK

The UK Medicines Agency announced on Monday that it had approved a new generation of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine targeting the Omicron variant, a world first, the laboratory said.

This version of the vaccine consists of a so-called “bivalent” booster dose that targets half the original virus strain and half the Omicron variant, inducing “a strong immune response” against both, including the subvariants of Omicron BA.4 and BA .5, the MHRA said in a statement.

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It “was approved by the MHRA for adult booster doses, which concluded that it met the UK regulator’s safety, quality and efficacy standards,” the Medicines Agency added.

The observed side effects are “typically weak” and similar to the original serums, it says.

“What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharper tool in our toolbox to protect us from this disease as the virus continues to evolve,” MHRA Director June Raine said in a press release.

For his part, the general director of Moderna Stéphane Bancel underlined “the important role” that this “new generation” of vaccines can play in protecting against COVID-19.

He noted that the UK became the first country to approve a bivalent vaccine partially targeting Omicron, the variant most prevalent in Europe.

Last week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that it is targeting approval as early as the fall of a Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine targeting two subvariants of the rapidly spreading Omicron strain, BA.4 and BA.5.

While vaccinations have helped reduce hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, which first emerged in China in late 2019, current injections are mostly targeting earlier strains of the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in July that the pandemic was “far from over” due to the spread of Omicron subvariants, the lifting of health restrictions and the drop in screening.

COVID cases rose globally in late spring and early summer, fueled by newer variants, but have since leveled off in Europe.

European countries are now beginning to look to autumn and winter when cases are expected to rise again.

The UK is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe by the pandemic, with nearly 180,000 deaths. While mortality has plummeted thanks to vaccination, the country regularly experiences major waves of contamination but was one of the first in Europe to lift all restrictions last winter.

Listen to Alexandre Moranville’s interview with Jacques Lapierre, a virologist who has worked in vaccine manufacturing for decades, on Radio QUB:

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