Moderna hopes to be able to offer an updated COVID-19 booster for the latest variant this autumn
Moderna hopes to be able to offer an updated COVID-19 booster for the latest variant this autumn

Moderna hopes to be able to offer an updated COVID-19 booster for the latest variant this autumn

Moderna hopes to offer updated COVID-19 boosters this fall, combining its original vaccine with protection against the omicron variant. On Tuesday, it reported a preliminary hint that such an approach could work.

Today’s COVID-19 vaccines are all based on the original version of coronavirus. But the virus continues to mutate, with the super-infectious omicron variant – and its siblings – the latest threat.

Before omicron came, Moderna studied a combination shot that added protection against an earlier variant called beta. On Tuesday, the company said people given that the beta-original vaccine combination produced more antibodies capable of fighting more variants – including omicron – than today’s common booster triggers.

While the increase in antibodies was modest, Moderna’s goal is to produce a combination shot specifically aimed at omicron. “These results really give us hope” that the next step will work even better, said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, a Modern Vice President.

Tuesday’s data were reported online and have not been examined by independent experts.

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COVID-19 vaccines still provide strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, even against omicron. That variant is so different from the original coronavirus that it more easily slips past the immune system’s defenses, although studies in the United States and elsewhere show that an original booster dose strengthens protection. Some countries offer particularly vulnerable people an extra booster; in the United States, it’s all 50 years or older or those with a severely weakened immune system.

Health authorities have made it clear that giving boosters every few months is not the answer to the mutating virus. They are beginning to consider how to decide if and when to change the vaccine prescription.

Just switching to a vaccine targeting the latest variant is risky because the virus can mutate again. So Moderna and its rival Pfizer are both testing what scientists call “bivalent” shots – a mix of each company’s original vaccine and an omicron-targeted version.

Why would Moderna’s earlier, beta-targeted combo-shot have any effect on omicron? It includes four mutations that both the beta variant and the newer omicron have in common, Miller said.

Now Moderna is testing a bivalent shot that better targets the omicron – it includes 32 of the variant’s mutations. Studies of two booster doses are underway in the United States and the United Kingdom; results are expected in late June.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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