- Moderna said Wednesday that its new COVID-19 booster shot sparked a significantly stronger immune response against the omicron variant than its original vaccine.
- In the latest iteration, Moderna combined its Spikevax shot with an inoculation specifically designed to take on the omicron variant that became dominant late last year. The resulting bivalent vaccine boosted patients’ immune responses against both the “ancestral” strain of coronavirus as well as omicron.
- The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech said it will begin submitting data to regulators in hopes of making the shot available in the late summer. But public health officials could face a tough decision, as it’s unclear how well the vaccine can prevent sickness caused by newer strains of omicron, or whether another variant will emerge by then.
By pursuing a double-barreled approach, Moderna aims to make its new vaccine more relevant as the coronavirus continues to mutate. The company said it saw higher immune responses against all the major variants so far, even though the bivalent vaccine wasn’t specifically designed to take on strains like alpha, beta, gamma and delta.
The results announced Wednesday cover patient immune responses one month after receiving the new shot. Moderna said it expects to have three-month data later in the summer. Importantly, the initial safety profile of the new vaccine appears similar to the original and an immune response against omicron was triggered in all patients, regardless of previous COVID-19 infections, the company said.
There are still a number of questions facing Moderna and other vaccine makers. Though research is limited, some studies suggest that the newer BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants may be more adept at eluding vaccines and protection from prior infections than the earlier omicron versions that swept through the U.S. in late 2021 and early 2022.
Health officials are also seeing less demand for booster shots than the original vaccines, as American grow weary of the pandemic. Even in regions where the majority of inhabitants got the first two doses to become fully vaccinated, the percentage of people who have received at least one booster hovers around 30%, according to the New York Times’ vaccination tracker.
Moderna’s strategy of producing a booster shot that can be taken in the fall may help with uptake. Many Americans go in for flu shots in the fall and can get a COVID-19 booster at the same time.
Moderna and rival Pfizer have both been working on omicron-specific vaccines for months, with Pfizer initially claiming its entry would be ready by March. But development is tricky, with the virus constantly mutating and public health officials struggling to provide guidance.
The Food and Drug Administration has scheduled another meeting to discuss the vaccines on June 28.