Vaccine makers are scrambling to develop the next wave of COVID-19 boosters as health officials prepare for a deadly wave of infections in the U.S. this fall.
While current vaccines offer protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19, health officials are hoping for a boost that targets the latest strains of the coronavirus, specifically the BA subvariant of Omicron. 4 and BA.5 — will offer enhanced protection as early as this fall.
On Friday, July 29, the White House announced an agreement to provide 66 million doses of a boosted COVID vaccine candidate from Moderna that offers better protection against new strains of the coronavirus.
The government also has a contract to buy 105 million doses of the bivalent booster from Pfizer, with both contracts subject to FDA approval and CDC recommendation.
These bivalent boosters, which address two viral strains in one shot, are expected to be available early this fall. The FDA initially expressed optimism for October, but The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Biden administration expects to fire in September.
Regardless, infectious disease experts say the improved version of the vaccine is the next step in getting protection against the ever-evolving virus. This is because the original vaccine was made against the original strain that had undergone many mutations.
“The vaccines we have are first generation; they did an amazing job,” said Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like without vaccines. That would be terrible. They discharged people from the hospital; they saved people from death; they have been very successful, but they can be improved.”
Contacted: Option BA.5 accelerates Michigan’s falling COVID wave
The recent increase in COVID cases worldwide has been linked to the newest omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. The latter accounts for approximately 82% of US cases and approximately 70% of Michigan consecutive cases.
BA.5 spreads more easily than previous strains of the coronavirus. Health officials say it’s better to avoid preemptive contact, as well as to open the door to infection among people who have already contracted COVID-19 this year.
“Omicron, unlike other options, has shown an innate ability to neutralize antibodies,” Sullivan said. “But the good news is that those people are not seriously infected. They are suffering from mild illness.
According to Moderna, its bivalent enhancer candidate, developed against the original strain and the latest omicron variant, has been effective in clinical trials. The company said it plans to submit its data to regulators by the end of June and prepare the supply if it receives approval by August.
At the same time, Pfizer developed two new enhancer candidates – a bivalent and one that targets only one omicron (monovalent). According to the company, both bullets potentiate the reaction against omicron BA.1 and, to a lesser extent, BA.4 and BA.5.
On Wednesday, Pfizer, along with partner BioNTech, began testing the bivalent enhancer in 200 clinical participants between the ages of 18 and 55.
Whenever footage is available to the public, there may be a new option adopted at that time. But Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health, noted that the second-generation vaccine offers better protection against the next strain because it contains many mutations, such as omicrons and others.
“Like the vaccine we have now, when it was introduced, the country had switched to alpha, but it was still effective because the alpha was close to the original,” Sims said.
Michigan health officials say the rapid spread of BA.5 may have occurred weeks earlier than expected in early fall. As students return to school and social gatherings move back indoors as temperatures drop, they’ve long demanded another wave of events.
The state’s seven-day average of daily new COVID cases (2,369) recently hit its highest point since late May. Hospitalizations and deaths remain steady, but health officials are closely monitoring whether those who should be vaccinated are being encouraged to get vaccinated.
As of Wednesday, nearly 63% of Michigan residents had received at least the first dose of the COVID vaccine, while only 35.2% had received a booster shot beyond their initial dose.
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