The United Kingdom on Monday became the first country to authorize a reformulated COVID-19 vaccine that targets the original strain of the coronavirus and its omicron variant.
The shots from Moderna will be rolled out in the coming weeks as part of a fall booster campaign ahead of the winter when the virus typically flourishes.
Regulators around the world are working with drugmakers to ensure they have a targeted vaccine for the coronavirus, which has mutated to some degree and can evade existing immune defenses.
“The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the U.K. continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve,” said Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
The Moderna shots target the original omicron strain that appeared during the winter holidays in late 2021 but the drugmaker said it also showed a better antibody response against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 strains than currently available shots.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is eyeing its own fall booster campaign for the reformulated vaccine this fall.
Regulators decided to target the prevalent BA.5 variant with the bivalent vaccine, with a launch in September or October, instead of recommending immediate boosters for everyone amid a spike in cases earlier this summer.
U.S. officials have urged persons 50 or older to get a second booster — a fourth shot overall — if they haven’t already in the 2022 calendar year.
Only about a third of persons eligible for a second booster have gotten one, according to federal data.
The U.K. is out front on bivalent shots after leading the way earlier in the pandemic. It beat the U.S. to the punch in launching the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines at the start of the immunization campaign in late 2020.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said he was “delighted” to see the U.K. green-light his company’s next-generation vaccine.
“This represents the first authorization of an omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, further highlighting the dedication and leadership of the U.K. public health authorities in helping to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr. Bancel said.
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