Moderna Covid booster better against omicron BA.5, trigger response against BQ.1.1

A vial of the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) booster vaccine targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants is pictured at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania on September 8, 2022.

Hannah Beier | Reuters

Moderna’s new Covid booster triggered a stronger immune response against omicron BA.5 and also appears to work against the emerging BQ.1.1 subvariant, according to the company.

Modern, in clinical trial data released on Monday, found that the new booster elicited five times more antibodies against omicron BA.5 than older vaccines in people who had already been infected with Covid. Boosters triggered more than six times more antibodies against BA.5 in people without previous infection.

The study looked at 500 people between the ages of 19 and 89 who received the new booster. This is the first human data Moderna has released on boosters.

Moderna said it also found that the new booster triggered a robust immune response against omicron BQ.1.1, an emerging Covid subvariant in the United States. However, the response was not as strong against BQ.1.1 compared to BA.5. Antibody levels were about five times lower against BQ.1.1.

The Food and Drug Administration asked Moderna and Pfizer to develop the boosters against omicron BA.5 during the summer when it was dominant. But other omicron subvariants come out BA.5 just months after US health regulators cleared the boosters.

Omicron BA.5 now accounts for 29% of new infections in the United States, while the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants account for 44% of new cases in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . US health officials have said the boosters should provide protection against the BQ subvariants because they descend from BA.5.

Pfizer also released data earlier this month indicating that boosters provide better protection against omicron BA.5 than older vaccines. Dr. Peter Marks, head of the FDA’s vaccines division, said the consistency between Moderna’s and Pfizer’s results was “very encouraging”.

“With the increasing prevalence of BQ.1.1 and the number of trips that will occur from Thanksgiving onwards, it will be very important for all who are eligible, and especially older adults, to consider getting their up-to-date vaccinations. to protect themselves if they haven’t already so,” Marks said in a statement.

Public interest in booster data is high because the FDA cleared them without direct human data on their performance. Instead, the agency relied on clinical trial data from a similar booster targeting omicron BA.1, the original version of omicron that caused the massive surge last winter.

Pfizer and Moderna were originally developing boosters against omicron BA.1, but the FDA asked them to shift gears and target BA.5 instead, as the subvariant became dominant over the summer. . The sudden change did not give companies enough time to initiate clinical trials and submit data on BA.5 boosters before clearance.

Two independent studies from Columbia and Harvard universities found that boosters did not do a much better job compared to omicron BA.5. The FDA pushed back against these studies, arguing that they were too small to draw definitive conclusions about the injections.

The newer recalls, called bivalent vaccines, target both the omicron BA.5 and the original version of Covid that appeared in China in 2019. The old vaccines, called monovalent vaccines, only target the original version of Covid.

The effectiveness of older vaccines against mild infections and illnesses declined dramatically as the mutated virus moved further and further away from the original strain. Older vaccines still generally provide protection against serious diseases, although this protection is also diminishing.

US health officials hope the new recalls will help stave off another massive wave of illnesses this winter.

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