Frankfurt/London – Adapted versions of established mRNA Covid-19 vaccines that address two variants in one shot will soon offer people better protection than vaccines that are now available, a European health official said on Wednesday.
Moderna and the BioNTech-Pfizer alliance are working on vaccines based on a combination of the original Wuhan virus and an Omicron subvariant.
Referred to as bivalent shots, these are planned for use in the autumn vaccination campaign in Europe.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
In recent days, EU officials have sounded the alarm on a new wave of Covid cases in the continent, and an increasing trend in hospitalisations, driven by the Omicron offshoot called BA.5.
“We project that by the end of this month the BA.5 sublineage will be the dominant variant in most of the EU countries,” Pierre Delsaux, the director EU's Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, told members of the European Parliament in a hearing.
No final decision had been made on which Omicron variant, BA.1 or BA.4/BA.5, the autumn vaccine campaign should use, since none of the shots had been endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), he said.
“Whatever bivalent vaccine is finally … available in Europe, it will be a good vaccine, it will be a better vaccine, even against BA.4/BA.5.”
The EMA expected new Covid variant-adapted vaccines to be approved by September, but indicated on Friday that it was open to using shots targeting the older BA.1 variant for that campaign, given that the shots targeting the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains had only recently entered clinical development.
“That's why for the time being we still think that it's very good to keep all options open and to not exclude any of these candidates from any potential approval,” Marco Cavaleri, EMA's head of health threats and vaccines strategy, said last week.
Earlier this week, EU health agencies recommended a second Covid-19 booster for everyone over 60, as well as medically vulnerable people, to combat the new rise in Covid cases.
The new Covid wave had already begun, and because most people in that age group had their booster more than three to six months ago they were now at risk – and the adapted vaccines would probably only be available September, Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Wednesday.
“If I get offered this vaccine now, I will take it now.”