The British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has given the go-ahead to administer a new Moderna Covid-19 vaccine adapted to the Omicron variant, making the United Kingdom the first country in the world to approve it.
Moderna's modified vaccine – mRNA-1273.214 – works against both the original Covid-19 strain and the Omicron variant, and tests show that the new vaccine elicits a better immune response than the 'old' vaccines against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants that are currently circulating.
The UK plans to use the new vaccine for its booster campaign in the autumn.
"The first generation of Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK continues to provide important protection against the disease and save lives," said Dr June Raine, MHRA's Chief Executive, in a press release. "What this so-called 'bivalent' vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve."
What about Belgium?
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is also expected to give its approval for use in the EU soon, confirmed Gudrun Briat, responsible for Covid-9 communication, to The Brussels Times.
"The EMA approval is expected in late August, early September. The UK has its own system because it is no longer part of the EU, but it is using more or less the same criteria," she said. "Once that is official, we will also start using the modified vaccine as a booster in our vaccination campaign."
The vaccine will only be approved as a booster dose in Belgium, meaning it can only be administered to people who have had a complete basis vaccination schedule (two doses of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca, one dose of Johnson & Johnson).
"Those who have not been vaccinated at all before this autumn will receive the 'old' vaccines, those who have already had two or three doses will receive the new one," Briat said. "We ordered more than enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone who wants to get the shot."
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People over 65 years old, those with a lowered immunity and healthcare workers will be the first groups eligible to get a new booster, followed by the general adult population, in descending order of age.
"We are waiting for studies for use in people under 18. However, the booster is already possible for young people under that age if they have very serious comorbidities or an immune disorder," said vaccinology professor Pierre Van Damme on Flemish radio.
"September and October are ideal months to revaccinate," he added. "That way, we build up a strengthened protection, because more virus circulation is expected by the end of the year."
As with the previous vaccines, how long the vaccines remain effective will have to be monitored. "We see that the vaccines offer long protection against hospitalisation and death. That is, above all, what we are aiming for, and we can certainly count on that."