UK first country to approve new Moderna vaccine targeting original strain and Omicron variant

The UK is the first country to approve the use of a new Covid-19 vaccine that targets two strains of the virus. ITV News' Neil Connery reports.

A "next-generation" Covid-19 booster jab - the first to target two strains of the virus - has been approved for adults in the UK.

Moderna's vaccine, which targets both the original Covid strain and the Omicron variant, has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Known as mRNA-1273.214, the dose is an updated version of the Moderna vaccine which is already in use for first, second, and booster doses.

The UK is the first nation to approve the jab, and it could be used in the booster programme.

The UK is the first country to approve the vaccine. Credit: PA

MHRA chief executive, Dr. June Raine, described the new booster as "a sharpened tool in our armoury" to protect the UK against Covid-19.

Throughout rigorous clinical trials the jab has "consistently shown a superior breadth of immune response" said Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer at Moderna. 

He added that the vaccine would be integral to protecting people during the winter months and that the side effects are mild and are similar to the Moderna booster dose.  

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, an independent body sponsored by the DHSC to advise ministers on the safety, efficacy, and quality of medicinal products, said the vaccine was safe to use.

Prof Pirmohamed said: “The Commission on Human Medicines and its Covid-19 Vaccines Expert Working Group has independently reviewed the data on safety, quality and effectiveness and agrees with the MHRA’s decision.”

The new Moderna Covid booster vaccine explained

What is the new Covid vaccine?

Moderna's new bivalent vaccine is the first to target two strains of Covid-19.

The company's chief executive officer Stephane Bancel described it as a “next-generation" Covid vaccine and said it will play an “important role in protecting people in the UK" over the winter.

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How is it different to previous vaccines?

The dose is an updated version of the existing Moderna vaccine.

The new version - known as mRNA-1273.214 - contains the original Moderna vaccine, plus a modification targeted at the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Bivalent vaccines have been developed since the emergence and dominance of the Omicron variant.

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), described it as "a sharpened tool in our armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve."

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When will it be rolled out?

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said those eligible for an autumn booster would be contacted from early September, and confirmed that Moderna's new bivalent vaccine will form part of the rollout.

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Who might be offered the new vaccine?

Based on advice from the JCVI, adults aged 50 years and over could be offered the new Moderna bivalent vaccine as part of the autumn booster programme.

People aged 18-49 who meet the criteria for a booster may also be offered the new vaccine. This includes the clinically vulnerable, frontline health workers, unpaid carers or those living in a household with an immunosuppressed person.

However, not everyone who is called for a booster jab will be guaranteed the new vaccine. They could be offered the original Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or a type known as Novavax in "exceptional" circumstances where no other suitable vaccine is available.

A JCVI spokesperson said that all of the available boosters provide good protection against severe illness from coronavirus.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the JCVI, said: "It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn, whichever vaccine is on offer."

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He added that since coronavirus is “continually evolving in order to evade the immunity provided by vaccines” constant updates to the jabs are needed.

Prof Pirmohamed added that a recent paper in the Lancet medical journal suggested that coronavirus vaccines have prevented up to 20 million deaths in their first year of use.

Moderna said it has also completed its applications for regulatory approval of the booster in Australia, Canada, and the EU.