Moderna says updated COVID shot bolsters omicron protection

(AP) — Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine that combines its original vaccine with protection against the omicron variant appears to work, the company said Wednesday.

COVID-19 vaccine makers are studying updated boosters that could be offered in the fall to better protect people from future coronavirus surges.

Preliminary results from the Moderna study show that people who received the combination vaccine experienced a higher rise in anti-omicron antibodies than if they had just received a fourth dose of the original vaccine.

“We strongly believe that these data support a vaccine update,” Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, said Wednesday.

Today’s COVID-19 vaccines are all based on the original version of the coronavirus. They still provide strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, even after the super-infectious omicron variant emerges, particularly if people have received an initial booster dose.

But the virus continues to rapidly mutate in ways that evade some of the vaccine protections and cause milder infections.

US regulators and the World Health Organization are therefore considering ordering a change in the vaccine recipe for a new round of boosters in the fall – when cold weather and the return of children to school are expected to lead to a new push.

Key Questions: How do you make this change without losing the strong, ongoing protection against the worst outcomes of COVID-19? And what is the right variant to target? After omicron’s huge winter surge, the genetically distinct parents of this mutant are now the main threats, including the one fueling the current wave of infections in the United States.

The Food and Drug Administration convened a meeting in late June for its scientific advisers to discuss these issues and evaluate vaccine makers’ test data on potential new formulations. Pfizer is also studying a combination vaccine, what scientists call a bivalent vaccine, with data expected later this month.

Moderna’s new study tested people who had already received three vaccines, giving 377 of them a fourth dose of the original vaccine and 437 others the combination vaccine.

The study was not designed to track how well the updated booster prevented COVID-19 cases and it was only tested against omicron, not currently dominant variants. But the bivalent vaccine triggered an almost eightfold increase in the levels of antibodies capable of fighting the omicron. Crucially, it was 1.75 times better than jumping antibodies by just giving a fourth dose of the original vaccine, Moderna said.

The data has not been scientifically reviewed and these initial measurements were taken one month after the booster injections. Antibodies naturally wane, so it’s unclear how long this protection might last. Moderna plans to track levels at three and six months, but is already manufacturing doses to be ready if regulators in the United States or elsewhere order a change to fall injections.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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