Moderna COVID-19 booster shot effective against omicron subvariants, company says

Officials with Massachusetts biotechnology company Moderna said Wednesday that an updated version of the company’s COVID-19 booster shot appears to be effective against a pair of omicron subvariants that last week accounted for more than a third of COVID-19 infections nationwide.

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The company’s bivalent booster candidate, which aims to combat both the original strain of COVID-19 and omicron, showed a more than fivefold increase in antibodies against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants one month after it was administered in people who were both previously vaccinated and boosted, according to Moderna. However, officials noted that the 50-micogram shot was most effective against the original omicron strain, with antibodies that were about threefold lower for BA.4 and BA.5.

Still, Moderna officials said the data released Wednesday suggests that the booster shot could produce “lasting protection against the whole family of omicron variants,” Reuters reported.

“This is a strong, powerful antibody response,” Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference, according to Reuters. “It is probably long lasting, and I think the conclusions are that boosting or primary vaccination with (the updated vaccine) really could be a turning point in our fight against SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Officials said the shot “was generally well tolerated.” The company expects to submit data to regulators soon in anticipation of getting the new booster shot out in August.

The data has not been peer reviewed, though company officials said Moderna was preparing Wednesday to submit a manuscript to a peer reviewed publication.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NBC News that the data reported Wednesday by Moderna was “good news.” The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of COVID-19 are expected to become dominant across the country by the end of summer, the news network reported.

Last week, the BA.5 subvariant accounted for about 24% of COVID-19 infections nationwide while BA.4 accounted for just over 11%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Tuesday afternoon, just over 78% of the U.S. population – 259.1 million people – has gotten at least one dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. Nearly 67% of Americans, or 221.9 million people, have been fully vaccinated, and over 47% of those who have been fully vaccinated have gotten at least one booster shot, CDC data shows.

Officials have confirmed more than 86.4 million COVID-19 infections and reported over 1 million deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 540.8 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 6.3 million deaths, according to the university.

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