FRANKFURT/LONDON, July 13 (Reuters) – Adapted versions of established mRNA COVID-19 vaccines that address two variants in one shot will soon offer people better protection than vaccines that are now available, a European health official said on Wednesday.
Moderna and the BioNTech-Pfizer alliance are working on vaccines based on a combination of the original Wuhan virus and an Omicron subvariant.
Referred to as bivalent shots, these are planned for use in the autumn vaccination campaign.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
In recent days, EU officials have sounded the alarm on a new wave of COVID cases in the continent, and an increasing trend in hospitalisations, driven by the Omicron offshoot called BA.5.
“We project that by the end of this month the BA.5 sublineage will be the dominant variant in most of the EU countries,” Pierre Delsaux, the director EU’s Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, told members of the European Parliament in a hearing.
At this stage, no final decision has been made on which Omicron variant BA.1 or BA.4/BA.5 the autumn vaccine campaign should use, since none of the shots have been yet endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), he said.
“Whatever bivalent vaccine is finally…available in Europe. It will be a good vaccine, it will be a better vaccine, even against BA.4/BA.5.”
The EMA expects new COVID variant-adapted vaccines to be approved by September, but signalled on Friday that it is open to using shots targeting the older BA.1 variant for that campaign, given the shots targeting the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains have only recently entered clinical development.
“That’s why for the time being we still think that it’s very good to keep all options open and to not exclude any of these candidates from any potential approval,” Marco Cavaleri, EMA’s head of health threats and vaccines strategy said in a press briefing last week.
Earlier this week, EU health agencies recommended a second COVID-19 booster for everyone over 60, as well as medically vulnerable people to combat the new rise in COVID cases.
The new COVID wave is already happening, and because most people in that age group had their booster more than three to six months ago, the risk is now – and the adapted vaccines will likely only be available September onwards, said Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Wednesday.
“If I get offered this vaccine now, I will take it now.”
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Natalie Grover in London, Editing by Angus MacSwan)