Moderna’s Omicron Booster Increases Antibody Levels

Public-health experts have long warned that a new vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus might be needed—especially now that the Omicron variant and its many subvariants are causing the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases around the world.

One may be coming soon. Moderna, which makes one of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), announced results from its study of a new vaccine the company’s scientists developed that targets both the original virus strain as well as Omicron. The company released a press release stating that the booster dose of the combination of the Omicron virus strains produced eight times more virus-neutralizing antibody levels in the vaccinated population than those who were boosted with the original vaccine.

Scientists believe that both the booster doses and the two-dose original shot continue to protect patients from serious illness and hospitalizations, regardless of the new variants. The levels of Omicron antibodies generated by vaccinated individuals are typically lower than those against the original strain. Moderna, a vaccine manufacturer, has developed bivalent vaccines, also known as combination vaccines, to increase protection against Omicron. The company’s study shows that targeting both the original and Omicron strains leads to a stronger immune response.

“We believe the data unequivocally show that the bivalent vaccine is significantly superior in producing neutralizing protection,” Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge said during a conference call announcing the results. “To more accurately reflect the circulating strain [of the virus], the data clearly show that it’s time to update the vaccine to improve the durability and magnitude of protection for the coming fall.”

Continue reading: Here’s What to Know About COVID-19 Booster Shots for Kids

It will remain up to FDA decision whether the Omicron target shot should be used instead of the original vaccine. Moderna will submit the latest data to FDA over the coming weeks in order to obtain authorization to use its bivalent vaccine to boost the immune system. This could be recommended to people who are ill in fall. This is the company’s second combination vaccine; earlier this spring, Moderna scientists released similarly encouraging data showing that a vaccine targeting both the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the Beta variant generated higher amounts of virus-neutralizing antibodies against a number of different virus strains, including the original, Beta, and Omicron variants.

Hoge said that although the data are only available for one month after the booster, it is still possible to measure how lasting that protection really is. “The real goal is to get to six or nine months of protection, which gets you through the respiratory season,” he says of the fall and winter, when viruses like influenza and coronaviruses tend to circulate more as people spend more time indoors. Current protection from the Moderna booster wanes after approximately four to six months. That is why health officials recommend everyone who was vaccinated to receive at minimum one booster dose every four to six months. They also suggest that those at high risk be given another dose.

Hoge indicated that the combination booster was not tested yet in children. However, Hoge noted that the studies would now be started, due to the positive safety and efficacy data for the booster in adults. The FDA has not yet reviewed Moderna’s application for authorizing its original vaccine in children; the agency’s advisory committee will be meeting on June 14 and 15 to review Moderna’s data for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines to make a recommendation. The same committee will meet on June 28 to discuss whether new formulations of COVID-19 vaccines, such as Moderna’s Omicron combination booster, should be recommended as a booster dose for adults in the fall, and whether the combination vaccine should replace the original vaccine for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet.

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