Omicron-specific COVID jabs could increase protection as boosters: EMA

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Coronavirus vaccines modified to include the variant strain of Omicron may improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.

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Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 injections to respond to emerging variants.

While existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.

As such, a specific or bivalent booster of Omicron – i.e. a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original strain of coronavirus – could « augment and extend » protection, according to a statement. of the EMA.

The statement specifically refers to mRNA vaccines. Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have tested revamped versions of their vaccines to include the Omicron variant.

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Vaccines that include other variants, for example the beta variant, could also be used as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrates an adequate level of neutralization against Omicron and other variants of concern, according to the release.

It follows World Health Organization guidelines that Omicron-specific boosters may restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.

But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the new BA.4 and BA.5 strains of Omicron, currently leading to an increase in new infections worldwide, in all new vaccines for national use.

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On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that reviewed the modified injections said the group preferred boosters based on BA.1, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the ones. sub-variants in circulation more recently.

Senior US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators in other countries are seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 Omicron variant that caused the massive increase in cases the last winter, as these vaccines may be available earlier than the BA. Booster based on 4/5 that USA plans to use.

The EMA said it would provide more details in the coming days.

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