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COVID vaccines: Moderna plans to update vaccines

Moderna hopes to offer updated COVID-19 boosters in the fall that combine its original vaccine with protection against the omicron variant. On Tuesday, he reported a preliminary hint that such an approach might work.

Today’s COVID-19 vaccines are all based on the original version of the coronavirus. But the virus continues to mutate, with the super-contagious omicron variant – and its siblings – the latest threat.

Prior to the arrival of omicron, Moderna was investigating a combo shot that added protection against an earlier variant named beta. On Tuesday, the company said people given the original beta-vaccine combination produced more antibodies capable of fighting off multiple variants — including omicron — than today’s regular booster triggers.

While the antibody boost was modest, Moderna’s goal is to produce a combination injection that specifically targets the omicron. “These results really give us hope” that the next step will work even better, said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, vice president of Moderna.

Tuesday’s data was reported online and has not been verified by independent experts.

COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, even against omicron. This variant is so different from the original coronavirus that it gets past immune system defenses more easily, although studies in the US and elsewhere show that an original booster dose boosts protection. Some countries offer particularly vulnerable people a second booster; in the United States, it’s anyone 50 or older or those with severely weakened immune systems.

Health officials have made it clear that giving boosters every few months is not the answer to the mutant virus. They began to deliberate on how to decide if and when to change the vaccine recipe.

Simply switching to a vaccine that targets the latest variant is risky, as the virus could mutate again. So Moderna and rival Pfizer are both testing what scientists call “bivalent” vaccines — a mix of each company’s original vaccine and an omicron-targeted version.

Why would Moderna’s earlier combo shot, targeted at the beta, have an effect on omicron? It includes four mutations that the beta variant and the new omicron have in common, Miller said.

Moderna is now testing a bivalent shot that better targets omicron – it includes 32 of that variant’s mutations. Studies of two booster doses are underway in the United States and Great Britain; the results are expected at the end of June.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.