The UK has become the first nation to approve a “next generation” Covid-19 booster jab which is the first to target two strains of the virus.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has authorised Moderna’s vaccine, which targets both the original Covid strain and the Omicron variant.
So what is the new vaccine, who will get it and how does it work? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the new vaccine?
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.
It is an bivalent vaccine, meaning it works against two different antigens.
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.”
How does it work?
In each dose of the booster known as ‘Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron’, half of the vaccine (25 micrograms) targets the original virus strain from 2020 and the other half (25 micrograms) targets Omicron.
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.
The MHRA’s decision to approve its use is based on data from a clinical trial which showed that a booster with the bivalent Moderna vaccine triggers a strong immune response against both Omicron (BA.1) and the original 2020 strain.
In an exploratory analysis the bivalent vaccine was also found to generate a good immune response against the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.
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.”
What are the side effects?
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.
Who will get the vaccine?
It has now been approved for use for adults in the UK.
Moderna said it has also completed its applications for regulatory approval of the booster in Australia, Canada, and the EU.