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The United Kingdom has become the first country to approve vaccine boosters designed to target the omicron variant of COVID-19, paving the way for Britons to get their shots in early autumn.
The Moderna shot approved in the UK is “bivalent”, meaning it is a combination of two versions of the vaccine: half targeting the original strain of Covid-19, and half a new formulation designed to fight the original Omicron variant. Known as BA.1.
“This bivalent vaccine gives us a sharper tool in our arsenal to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve,” said Dr June Raine, head of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. said in a statement.
Researchers in the UK found that the Moderna-made Omicron booster “stimulated a stronger immune response” against both the original 2020 strain and the original Omicron variant of the coronavirus that emerged late last year.
Those approved in the UK are a different shot than the Omicron-specific booster that US officials hope to release this fall.
Here in America, The FDA has asked vaccine makers to target Omicron subtypes called BA.4 and BA.5. – rather than focusing on the original Omicron variant that spread across the country last winter, the two strains that make up most of the cases here now.
The Moderna Shot, approved Monday in the UK, is less effective against the BA.5 – although it is still “developing[d] A good immune response” against that strain, the researchers said.
British regulators also found that the bivalent vaccine’s side effects were similar to those of the original Moderna vaccine — “generally mild and self-resolving” — and that there were no serious safety concerns.
Why America Wants Different Omicron Boosters?
But these bipolar sights are designed around the original Omicron variation, and as a result, they are less effective against the BA.4 and BA.5.
The original Omicron variant came out in late 2021 and helped drive massive epidemics during last year’s holiday season. It evolved into a few different subtypes that, one by one, dominated the caseload. Now, the BA.5 sub-variant dominates the US, Covers almost 90% of all cases.
That rapid change in the makeup of the virus is “a moving target” for health officials trying to steer vaccine policy, said Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious disease official.
In late June, the FDA, monitoring the possibility of another winter outbreak, asked vaccine manufacturers to replace the original Omicron strain with a bivalent vaccine targeting BA.4 and BA.5.
“Hopefully, whatever variation develops as we get into the fall and winter will be sufficient,” Fauci said. In an interview with NPR late last month.
When will Omicron Boosters be available in the US?
Officials have signaled that Omicron-specific boosters will be available to Americans this fall.
America bought Over 170 million total volumes Omicron boosters from Pfizer and Moderna. (That’s not enough for all 330 million Americans. But only about two-thirds of Americans have completed the initial course of vaccination, and fewer than half of those have received booster shots.)
The regulatory process is still ongoing to help show that vaccines are safe and effective. Officials have said they hope to approve the boosters by mid-September.
Can we get another original booster now?
Americans age 50 or older, along with some immunocompromised people, may already receive a second booster shot. According to CDC guidelines.
For others, some experts say that new boosters specific to BA.4 and BA.5 are expected soon, and it will be worth the wait.
Most people under 50, who don’t otherwise have underlying conditions, already have some protection. Although the effectiveness of the original vaccine and booster has decreased somewhat, they still help, especially in preventing serious infections and hospitalizations. Additionally, According to some estimates, 80% of Americans have been infected with Covid-19Adds natural immunity to the mix.
Additionally, vaccines may be less effective when taken too close together. Overall, if you’re young and healthy, it’s best to wait for a new booster this fall, said Dr. Carlos Del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University.
“The concern is that if you get the vaccine now, you won’t respond when you get another vaccine. You have to wait a little longer between doses of the vaccines,” Del Rio said. In an interview with NPR earlier this month. “In other words, the risk outweighs the benefit of getting another booster now.”
Additional reporting by NPR’s Rob Stein.
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