Over-50s to be offered Covid booster vaccine this autumn

Moderna's vaccine that works with the original Covid strain and Omicron variant will be available from September

The sign to a Covid-19 vaccination centre in London. Reuters
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The first Covid-19 vaccine against two strains of the virus will be offered to adults over 50 and clinically vulnerable people as part of the UK’s autumn booster programme.

Moderna’s new bivalent vaccine, which works with the original Covid strain and the Omicron variant, will be part of the introduction from early September, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said.

The vaccine will be avilable for people over the age of 5 who are classified as most at risk from the virus, as will their household contacts, NHS frontline and care-home staff, and carers aged 16 or over.

The UK became the first nation to authorise the vaccine, described as “next generation” by experts, when the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved it on Monday.

Mr Barclay said those eligible for the autumn booster would be contacted from early September.

“I have accepted the independent advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on which vaccines should be offered in this autumn’s booster programme," he said.

“This includes a Moderna bivalent vaccine that will target two different variants — the Omicron and original strain of Covid.

“Vaccines remain our best defence against Covid, and this safe and effective vaccine will broaden immunity and potentially improve protection against some variants as we learn to live with this virus.

“Our vaccine rollout to date has been world leading. It has already saved countless lives and reduced the pressure on the NHS [National Health Service].

“We will begin to contact those eligible from early September, and I would urge people to come forward as soon as they are invited so together we can keep each other safe and protect our NHS.”

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Stephane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, described it as a “next generation Covid-19 vaccine” that will play an “important role in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19” over the winter.

“We are delighted with the MHRA’s authorisation of Spikevax Bivalent Original/Omicron, our next generation Covid-19 vaccine," Mr Bancel said.

“This represents the first authorisation of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, further highlighting the dedication and leadership of the UK public health authorities in helping to end the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”

Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, earlier said the new vaccine could boost antibodies to such high levels that it could only be needed once a year.

The MHRA said that the vaccine’s side effects are the same as those seen in the original Moderna booster dose and were typically mild.

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Agcency Chief executive Dr June Raine said: “The first generation of Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives.

“What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.”

Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicine, an independent body sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care to advise ministers on medicinal products, said the vaccine was safe to use.

He said that since coronavirus is “continually evolving in order to evade the immunity provided by vaccines”, constant updates to the shots are needed.

Prof Pirmohamed said that a recent paper in the Lancet medical journal suggested coronavirus vaccines had prevented up to 20 million deaths in their first year of use.

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Stephen Evans, pharmacoepidemiology professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the vaccine was based on the original Moderna shot, which was developed to also fight Omicron.

“This vaccine contains two components; the first is the original Moderna Covid vaccine for which there is both very large clinical trial data and massive experience after its introduction in many countries including the UK," Prof Evans said.

“The second is a modification of that original vaccine targeted at the Omicron variant of Sars-CoV-2, which is a new component.”

Moderna said it has also completed its applications for regulatory approval of the booster in Australia, Canada and the EU.

The Royal College of General Practitioners said that participation in the Covid vaccination programme for GP practices is optional and many have taken part.

Some practices which have been dealing with intense workloads and workforce pressures may have felt unable to take part, it added.

Updated: August 16, 2022, 5:23 AM