Omicron: GP explains ‘overwhelming’ science behind vaccines

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On Saturday, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency announced that it had approved the Pfizer/BioNTech “bivalent” booster for use in people aged 12 and older. The agency authorised Moderna’s booster as being similarly safe and effective last month. Previous COVID-19 vaccines only targeted the initial strain, even as new mutants emerged. In contrast, half of each of the bivalent boosters are specifically designed to offer protection against the newer omicron variants.

The Government will be offering the vaccines to everyone aged 50 and over as the NHS bolsters itself against the surge of infections expected this winter.

Boosters will also be offered to the vulnerable, as well as front-line health care workers.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “These innovative vaccines will broaden immunity and strengthen our differences against what remains a life-threatening virus.

“If eligible, please come forward for a booster jab as soon as you are contacted by the NHS.”

The announcement as the European Union’s drug agency warned that entirely new COVID variants could emerge over the course of this winter.

However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) added, existing vaccinations should be able to protect people from serious illness and death.

The EU is also preparing to roll out a booster campaign in anticipation of a wave of new coronavirus cases hitting later this year.

In Europe, booster jabs will include a mixture of newly-approved vaccines against the dominant Omicron variant, alongside the original vaccinations developed to fight the strain that first emerged in China back in 2019.

Despite the mixed delivery, EMA vaccines chief Dr Marco Cavaleri said the EU citizens “should not wait for a specific vaccine”.

He added: “There might be a completely new variant emerging that we are not able to predict today.”

On Thursday last week, the EMA approved vaccines developed by both Pfzier/BioNTech and Moderna that have been adapted to tackle the older BA.1 Omicron subvariant.

Meanwhile, the EU is expected to authorise the version of the Pfizer vaccine updated for the now-dominant BA.4 and 5 strains in mid-September, followed by a similar Moderna jab.

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Delivery of the new Omicron-adapted jabs in Europe will largely be targeted at seniors, the vulnerable, pregnant women and healthcare workers, Dr Cavaleri said.

Most Europeans, however, will be administered the original vaccines.

Dr Cavaleri added: “The original vaccines are still able to protect against severe COVID-19 disease and death, even if they are less effective at preventing infection.”

The vaccine chief added that predictions had “not excluded” the possibility that new variants this winter could end up being closer to the earlier Omicron strains that have now been overtaken by the BA.4 and 5 types.

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