Moderna says updated vaccine works better against omicron variant

Moderna on Wednesday said that a new version of its vaccine provided a superior immune response against the COVID-19 omicron variant, making it the lead candidate for a booster shot this fall.

The company released results on an updated, “bivalent” vaccine that includes both the original vaccine and an updated version specifically designed to target the omicron variant. That update allows the vaccine to provide better protection against that variant specifically, the company said.  

A booster dose of the updated vaccine led to an eight-fold increase in neutralizing antibody levels, the company said.  

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the updated vaccine is “our lead candidate for a Fall 2022 booster.” 

“We are submitting our preliminary data and analysis to regulators with the hope that the Omicron-containing bivalent booster will be available in the late summer,” he said.  

However, there is a complication, which is that the virus is evolving quickly, and the original omicron strain is no longer what is circulating most widely in the United States. Two new subvariants of omicron, known as BA.4 and BA.5 are on the rise, and it is unclear how well the updated vaccine performs against them. 

There is an expectation, though, that an updated, bivalent vaccine will be used in a fall booster shot campaign.  

The problem is that the Biden administration says it does not have enough money to purchase these updated vaccines for all Americans unless Congress provides funding.  

COVID-19 funding has been stalled for months. Republicans have demanded a vote on reinstating a Trump-era policy at the southern border known as Title 42, which Democrats have been unwilling to give. There have also been disputes over how or whether to offset the new spending.  

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet later this month to discuss updating vaccines for the fall.