First COVID-19 vaccine to target Omicron variant approved for use in UK

The MHRA has approved an updated version of the Moderna vaccine that targets both the original COVID-19 virus and the Omicron variant, meaning it could be available for use in the autumn booster campaign.

The original Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images)

Half of the bivalent vaccine (25 micrograms) targets the original virus strain and the other half targets the Omicron variant.

The MHRA said its decision to approve the vaccine was based on data from a clinical trial which showed that a booster with the vaccine triggers a strong immune response against both strains of the virus.

The vaccine is based on the BA.1 Omicron strain, but the MHRA said that it also produced a good immune response agains the sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5. BA.5 is currently the dominant variant circulating in the UK.

The MHRA said that safety monitoring had shown that the side effects to the new Moderna vaccine were the same as those for the original Moderna booster dose. These were 'typically mild and self-resolving, and no serious safety concerns were identified', the agency said.

Autumn COVID-19 boosters

The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) has yet to recommend which vaccines should be used for the autumn booster programme, however all booster programmes until now have relied on the two mRNA vaccines - the original Moderna jab and the Pfizer vaccine.

It is unclear how many doses of this new vaccine will be available for use in the UK this year.

Last month the JCVI widened the COVID-19 autumn booster campaign to include all adults over the age of 50. It is thought that around 26.1m people in England alone will be eligible for the jab.

The programme will cover:

  • residents and staff in care homes for older people
  • all individuals aged over 50
  • frontline health and care workers
  • those in at-risk groups aged 5-49, which includes pregnant women
  • those aged 5-49 who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
  • those aged 16-49 who are carers.

MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said: 'The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. 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.

'We have in place a comprehensive safety surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all UK-approved COVID-19 vaccines and this will include the vaccine approved today.'

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