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Moderna: Updated COVID booster is effective against Omicron subvariants

CEO says US biotech firm intends to submit new vaccine to regulators, will gear up to start supplying shots by August in anticipation of infection spike in the fall

In this file photo from August 15, 2021, vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the Assad Iben El Fourat school in Oued Ellil, outside Tunisa. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, file)
In this file photo from August 15, 2021, vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the Assad Iben El Fourat school in Oued Ellil, outside Tunisa. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, file)

WASHINGTON — Moderna on Wednesday said its new COVID-19 booster candidate, which it is hoping to get approved this fall, performed well against Omicron’s latest subvariants.

The US biotech company announced earlier this month that the so-called “bivalent” vaccine, which targets the original COVID strain and original Omicron BA.1, performed better against both compared to its original COVID vaccine called Spikevax.

In new results from a clinical study, the company said that the booster also did well against BA.4 and BA.5, Omicron’s latest subvariants that are becoming dominant thanks to their increased ability to evade prior immunity, and enhanced transmissibility.

The bivalent booster elicited high levels of infection-blocking antibodies against BA.4 and BA.5 both in people who were previously infected and those not previously infected.

However, even those high levels were still one-third the levels achieved against the original Omicron strain, BA.1.

“We will submit these data to regulators urgently and are preparing to supply our next generation bivalent booster starting in August, ahead of a potential rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections due to Omicron subvariants in the early fall,” said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel in a statement.

Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, speaks to the media after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker toured the Moderna facility, on May 12, 2021, in Norwood, Massachusetts. (Nancy Lane/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool)

The BA.4 and BA.5 variants hammered South Africa, where they were first discovered, in April and May — despite high population immunity conferred by prior waves and vaccinations.

Like other Omicron variants, they tend to have a milder disease course as they settle less in the lungs and more in the upper nasal passages, causing symptoms like fever, tiredness, and loss of smell.

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