LONDON — Britain on Monday became the first country in the world to approve a dual Covid-19 vaccine, which tackles both the original virus and the newer omicron variant.
The updated Moderna vaccine — known as a bivalent because it targets two variants — is expected to be available to adults as a booster jab from the fall after receiving the go-ahead from the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on Monday.
It also received endorsement from the British government’s independent scientific advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines.
The MHRA said that while existing vaccines — which were designed to combat the original strain of Covid — continue to provide good protection, the augmented version would provide better defense as the virus evolves.
“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,” Dr. June Raine, chief executive of MHRA, said.
Greater protection against variants
The Commission on Human Medicines added that the approval marks a step forward for vaccine development, particularly for viruses with high levels of mutation.
“The virus, SARS-CoV-2, is continually evolving in order to evade the immunity provided by vaccines. This novel bivalent vaccine represents the next step in the development of vaccines to combat the virus, with its ability to lead to a broader immune response than the original vaccine.”
The approval follows clinical trials, in which a booster with Moderna’s bivalent vaccine was shown to trigger a strong immune response against both the original 2020 strain as well as omicron BA.1, which emerged in the U.K. last winter.
It was also found to generate a good immune response against omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, currently the dominant strains in the country.
Following the release of its findings in June, Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said he was hopeful that the new iteration would become its “lead candidate for a Fall 2022 booster.”
“This bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the U.K. from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months,” Bancel added in a statement Monday.
The U.K. government has not yet announced exactly who will receive the vaccine, however all over-50s and people in high-risk groups in the U.K. will be offered some form of booster from next month.
The government lowered the age threshold for those eligible for an autumn booster in July, following the continue spread of the virus.
Vaccines are considered one of the most effective ways of reducing the spread and the severity of the virus. Research in the medical journal The Lancet estimated in June that Covid-19 vaccines prevented almost 20 million deaths in their first year of use.