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Vivian Xie
17 Aug 2022

New dual-action vaccine against original SARS-CoV-2 strain and Omicron variant

Moderna’s novel bivalent vaccine is the first of its kind to be approved by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and SARS-CoV-2 variants.

The UK has become the first country to approve Moderna’s novel bivalent vaccine against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus strain and the recent Omicron variant, which will form a part of the country’s autumn booster campaign.

With the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the large surge in COVID-19 cases around the world since December 2021, Moderna’s latest vaccine – termed Spikevax – aims to target both the original viral strain as well as the first Omicron variant BA.1, a type of vaccine known as a bivalent vaccine. The vaccine arrives on the heels of multiple new strains of the original coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the UK has considered the evidence, including experiments on 437 individuals demonstrating the safety of the vaccine and their increased immunity against variants of SARS-CoV-2. It was discovered that the levels of antibodies able to detect and bind to the BA.1 Omicron variant were 1.7 times higher in those who were administered the new vaccine. Antibodies against more recent Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, which are responsible for the current wave of UK cases, were also present in higher levels.  

June Raine, the regulatory agency’s Chief Executive, commented: “What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.” 

However, the experiments are not without uncertainties. It is unclear whether the higher levels of antibodies provided by the vaccine equate to the prevention of serious illness, or whether it rules out the possibilities of new variants in the future. It is unknown whether an updated vaccine will be required and how effective they will be. 

For now, health ministers in the UK remain optimistic regarding the bivalent vaccine and plans for an autumn booster campaign. CEO of Moderna Stephane Bancel stated: “This represents the first authorisation of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine – this bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from COVID-19 as we enter the winter months.” 

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