A “next generation” coronavirus booster jab which may only need administering once a year has been approved for use in adults.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has authorised Moderna’s bivalent vaccine, which targets the original Covid strain and the Omicron variant.
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, and it will be the first dose approved in the UK which targets two strains of the virus.
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, previously said that the new jab can boost a person’s antibodies to such high levels that it may only be needed annually.
Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer at Moderna, described it as a “next generation Covid-19 vaccine” which will play an “important role in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19” over the winter.
Mr Bancel said: “We are delighted with the MHRA’s authorisation of Spikevax Bivalent Original/Omicron, our next generation Covid-19 vaccine.
“This represents the first authorisation of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, further highlighting the dedication and leadership of the UK public health authorities in helping to end the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”
Mr Bancel added that the jab has “consistently shown superior breadth of immune response” over alternatives in clinical trials.
“Sharpened tool in our armoury”
The MHRA said that the vaccine’s side effects are the same as those seen in the original Moderna booster dose and were typically mild.
Its chief executive, Dr June Raine, described the new booster as “a sharpened tool in our armoury” to protect the UK against Covid-19.
Dr Raine said: “I am pleased to announce the approval of the Moderna bivalent booster vaccine, which was found in the clinical trial to provide a strong immune response against the Omicron BA.1 variant as well as the original 2020 strain.
“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 armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.
“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.”
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.”
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.