Omicron-specific COVID vaccine approved in the UK

The Biden administration is working to get the vaccine available stateside next month.
Doctor drawing up Covid-19 vaccine from glass phial bottle and filling syringe injection for vaccination.

Omicron is responsible for much of this summers new cases. DepositPhotos

Health officials in the UK have just made the country the first to approve a new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that targets both the omicron variant and original virus. The Biden administration is currently working on its own booster campaign for next month and the Food and Dug Administration (FDA) has received assurances from both Modern, Pfizer, and BioNTech that doses of the re-tooled vaccine will be available by September. 

Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company Moderna developed the booster, which was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to meet regulator’s standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness. As of late July, Moderna said that it has secured 66 million doses of a vaccine that targets both the 2020 strain of the virus and the new sub-variants.

“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 armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve,” said June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive, in a press release. “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.”

[Related: Moderna is testing an Omicron-specific COVID vaccine. Here’s how it’s faring.]

Half of each dose targets the original virus with the other half targeting the highly contagious omicron variant.  According to the MHRA, the new formula was effective against omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 in clinical trials. BA.4 and BA.5 are currently the dominant strains of the virus and a study published in the June 2022 issue of Cell shows that the two have a strong ability to escape the antibodies built from previous vaccination.

While worldwide case numbers are not as high as winter 2021-2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been reporting huge numbers of fresh cases throughout the summer, due in large part to these highly contagious sub-variants and waning immunity from vaccination or previous infection. The new bivalent vaccines could help stem a possible fall and winter surge that could potentially lead to 100 million infections

According to data complied by The Washington Post, about 330 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and the infection rate stands at around 266 new infections per 100,000 people over the past week. In Britain, close to three quarters of the population have been fully vaccinated.