If you’re at high risk, don’t wait for updated COVID vaccines, experts say

CHICAGO, July 29 (Reuters) – People at risk of severe disease who have not received a second COVID-19 booster should not wait for Omicron-targeted vaccines expected in the fall, five vaccine experts told Reuters.

In many countries, including the United States, the BA.5 Omicron subvariant of the virus is increasing, but current vaccines continue to protect against hospitalization for severe illness and death.

And as the virus evolves, it’s unclear which version will become more common in the fall, or whether the new vaccines targeting BA.4/5 in the U.S. and BA.1 in Europe will be a good match.

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“If you need a booster, get it now,” said the doctor. John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, co-authored an editorial on the topic published Friday.

In the United States, regulators asked Pfizer Inc ( PFE.N ) partner BioNTech SE ( 22UAy.DE ) and Moderna Inc ( MRNA.O ) to develop vaccine boosters against BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron cousins. as well as the original virus.

On Friday, the government said it had delivered 66 million doses of Modera in a $1.74 billion contract. Combined with the 105 million doses on order from Pfizer/BioNTech, that comes to 171 million shots expected by early fall. read more

Meanwhile, regulators in Europe have signaled they are ready to use an Omicron-based booster sooner rather than later, possibly targeting the BA.1 variant, which set a record number of infections last winter.

US regulators are hoping for an updated vaccine targeting the original strain and believe the Omicron variant offers greater protection than future variants and that a booster closest to the version in circulation is valuable.

Given the current outbreak and declining human immunity, experts told Reuters the best help for those at risk is a subordinate.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 30% of people 50 and older who are eligible for the fourth vaccine dose have received the vaccine, compared to less than 10% of those aged 50-64. A fourth dose for people under 50 or without major risk factors has not been approved and has little support among scientific experts.

Moore said the evidence he’s seen, including at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration meeting in June and since, shows that the benefit of the BA.4/5 booster compared with the original vaccine is “absent” in terms of preventing infection.

“The public should not think that these Omicron-based amplifiers are some magic bullet that will change the face of the pandemic and solve all their problems. It will have less impact compared to the current amplifier we have,” he said.

‘TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE WAITING’

Dr. Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Institute for Translational Research in La Jolla, California, said that getting a second booster has a survival benefit over a single booster, which has been documented in five separate studies.

“When we have really good evidence, too many people are waiting,” he said.

Dr. According to Bob Wachter, head of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the longer it’s been since a person’s last donor, the more protected they are from infection and severe illness.

“There’s a ton of COVID around and it’s a very contagious agent,” he said.

BA.5 has caused a wave of new cases worldwide and now accounts for nearly 82% of all coronavirus infections in the US. read more

Wachter does not believe that the reformulated BA.4/5 vaccines will be ready for release in two months. “It seems a bit ambitious to me that even if they hit the timeline, they could go to the highest risk groups first,” he said. “I think the average person would need three to four months.”

Pfizer told Reuters it has several million shots of the BA.4/5 vaccine it has produced.

As for Novavax Inc’s ( NVAX.O ) newly approved vaccine, the company has yet to seek approval to use it as a booster.

While that’s great, the company’s boosters won’t be available anytime soon, according to Moore, who participated in the Novavax clinical trial. Novavax said it is developing the BA.4/5 amplifier and expects to have it ready by the fourth quarter.

Topol said, “What’s in the pipeline is months away. It’s a pathogenic version of the virus and it’s smart to be protected as much as possible.”

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Reporting by Julie Steenhuisen, additional reporting by Mike Ehrman in Maplewood, NJ; Edited by Carolyn Humer, Bill Berkrot, and Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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