Covid booster: what is new bivalent vaccine approved in UK - will jab be used in NHS autumn programme?

The new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has met standards of safety, quality and effectiveness

A second ‘bivalent’ Covid vaccine has been approved by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

But what is the new vaccine, who will be eligible to receive it and when will it be available?

A second ‘bivalent’ Covid jab has been approved for use in the UK for those aged 12 and over

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the second bivalent Covid jab?

A second ‘bivalent’ Covid jab has been approved for use in the UK for those aged 12 and over.

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The MHRA confirmed on Saturday (3 September) that Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine had met its standards of safety, quality and effectiveness and had been approved for the UK autumn booster programme.

The vaccine targets the original variant of coronavirus and the Omicron variant that emerged at the end of 2021.

The new jab follows the approval of a similar booster from Moderna in August.

‘Bivalent’ vaccines have been developed by global manufacturers since the emergence and dominance of the Omicron variant.

These vaccines contain two different antigens (substances that induce an immune response) based on two different Covid-19 strains or variants. The original mRNA vaccines contain one antigen (monovalent), based on the original ‘wild-type’ strain.

The decision to approve this second bivalent vaccine was based on data from a clinical trial, which showed that a booster dose with the bivalent Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine triggers a strong immune response against Omicron and the original strain.

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Safety monitoring of side-effects observed throughout the trial showed they were the same as those seen for the original Pfizer/BioNTech booster dose, and were typically mild and self-resolving, with no new serious safety concerns identified.

Will it be used in the autumn booster programme?

Yes, the new bivalent Covid vaccine will be used in the autumn booster programme.

Dr June Raine, the MHRA chief executive, said: “I am pleased to announce that we now have a second approved vaccine for the UK autumn booster programme. The clinical trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech bivalent vaccine showed a strong immune response against the Omicron BA.1 variant as well as the original strain.

“Bivalent vaccines are helping us to meet the challenge of an ever-evolving virus, to help protect people against Covid-19 variants.”

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When will it be available?

Pfizer’s UK country president, Susan Rienow, said the company has been manufacturing the new vaccine at risk - ahead of approval being granted - and doses “will be shipped immediately for use in the autumn booster programme to help protect people in the UK this winter season”.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, the chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it is “very encouraging” that more vaccines continue to become available.

Adding that winter was typically the time of greatest threat from respiratory infections, the professor encouraged everyone who was eligible to have their booster vaccine this autumn when it was offered.

He said: “This is our best defence against becoming severely ill from Covid-19.”

Those eligible for a Covid autumn booster jab will be contacted by the NHS, with the rollout beginning from September onwards.

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