US scans updated COVID boosters targeting latest variants

Washington (AFP) – The United States on Wednesday authorized its first update of its COVID-19 vaccines, booster doses targeting today’s most common strain of Omicron. Shots can begin in a matter of days.

FDA move to revise shot prescription made by Pfizer and rival Moderna that has already saved millions of spirits. Hope is that the modified boosters It will dampen another winter spell – and help calm a relative of Omicron BA.5 that continues to be widespread.

“These updated reinforcements provide us with an opportunity to move forward” in the next wave of COVID-19, said Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf.

So far, COVID-19 vaccines have targeted the original strain of coronavirus, even with entirely different mutations. The new American reinforcements are combined or “bivalent” shots. It contains half of the original vaccine prescription and half of the protection against the latest omicron versions, BA.4 and BA.5, which are considered the most infectious to date.

The group aims to increase cross-protection against multiple variants.

“It really does offer the broadest opportunity for protection,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine, Annalisa Anderson, told The Associated Press.

Updated boosters are only for people who have already received their initial vaccinations, using the original vaccines. The doses given by Pfizer and partner BioNTech are for anyone 12 years of age or older while Moderna’s updated shots are for adults — if it’s been at least two months since their last initial vaccination or booster dose. It should not be used for primary vaccinations.

One more step before the fall-boosting campaign begins: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should recommend who should get the extra shot. An influential CDC advisory panel will discuss the evidence Thursday — including whether people at high risk of COVID-19 should go first.

The United States has purchased more than 170 million doses from the two companies. Pfizer said it may ship up to 15 million of those doses by the end of next week. Moderna did not immediately say how many doses are ready for shipment but some will be available “in the coming days.”

The big question is whether people who are sick of vaccinations will ever roll up their sleeves again. Only half of Americans who were vaccinated got the first recommended booster dose, and only a third of those age 50 or older who were urged to get a second booster dose did.

Here’s the catch: The original vaccines still provide powerful protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19 for otherwise healthy people, especially if they get that important first booster dose. It’s not clear just how much of a benefit the updated booster will bring — beyond the temporary jump in antibodies able to fend off omicron infection.

However, “people should be aware that this is a different type of enhancer than was previously available. It would work better at protecting against omicron,” said virologist Andrew Bekos of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Even people with a previous version of omicron are still susceptible to reinfection, Pekos added, so “you should definitely use the booster medication even if you’ve had an infection in the past year.” He believes that “if we can get good support for using this, we might really be able to make an impact” in cases of COVID-19.

The FDA cleared the amendments ahead of studies in people, a step toward eventually treating COVID-19 vaccine updates like annual changes to flu vaccines.

The FDA’s head of vaccines, Dr. Peter Marks, emphasized that the agency considers the “total” of the evidence. Pfizer and Moderna previously brewed doses of the vaccine updated to match previous mutations — including an omicron strain called BA.1 that hit last winter — and tested them in humans. Those changes to the previous prescription were safe, and the BA.1 version significantly boosted anti-virus antibodies – more than another dose of the original vaccine – although fewer of those recognized today have distinct BA.4 and BA.5 strains. genetically

But instead of using those BA.1 shots, the Food and Drug Administration ordered companies To prepare more modern potions targeting the latest omicron mutations, which has led to a race to bring them up. Rather than wait a few more months for additional human studies for that very similar prescription, Marks said animal tests showed that the latest update stimulates a “very good immune response.”

“One needs to update the immune system with what is already circulating,” Marks said. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration also no longer allows the use of enhancers made from the original prescription for those 12 years of age or older.

The hope, Marks said, is that a vaccine matching the variants currently circulating might do a better job of fighting infection, not just serious disease, at least for a while.

What’s Next? Even with the release of the modified shots, Moderna and Pfizer are conducting human studies to help assess its value, including how it holds up in the event of a new mutation.

For children, Pfizer plans to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow the use of the updated boosters for children ages 5 to 11 in early October.

It’s the first US update of the COVID-19 vaccine prescription, and it’s an important but predictable next step — like how flu vaccines are updated each year.

And the United States is not alone. Britain I recently decided to offer adults over 50 years of age a different booster option than Moderna, a combination shot targeting the primary BA.1 omicron strain. European regulators are considering whether one or both of the updated versions will be authorized.

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Associated Press health writer Matthew Peroni contributed to this report.

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

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