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

CHICAGO, July 29 (Reuters) – People at high risk of severe illness who have not yet received a second COVID-19 booster should not wait for next-generation vaccines targeting Omicron due in the fall, five said vaccine experts at Reuters.

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

And, as the virus evolves, it’s unclear which version will be released widely in the fall or whether new vaccines – said to target BA.4/5 in the US and BA.1 in Europe – will be a good match. .

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“If you need a booster, get it now,” said Dr. John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, who co-wrote an op-ed on the subject published Friday. .

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

The government said on Friday it had ordered 66 million doses of the vaccine from Moderna as part of a $1.74 billion deal. Combined with the 105 million doses already ordered by Pfizer/BioNTech, the total count is 171 million doses, which are expected by early fall. Read more

Regulators in Europe, meanwhile, have signaled that they will be ready to use the Omicron-based booster available in Europe as soon as possible, which may well be the one for the BA.1 variant that caused the surge. record number of infections last winter.

U.S. regulators hope an updated vaccine that targets the original strain and a variant of Omicron will offer broader protection against future variants, and believe a booster closest to the circulating version is valuable. .

Given the current surge and people’s waning immunity, experts told Reuters the best booster for those at risk is one at hand.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 30% of people 50 and older eligible for a fourth dose of the vaccine have received one, and less than 10% of those ages 50 to 64. For people under 50 or without major risk factors, a fourth dose has not been approved and has little support from scientific experts.

Moore said evidence he’s seen, including at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration meeting in June and since, suggests that the benefit of a BA.4/5 booster over the vaccine from origin is “negligible” in terms of preventing infection.

“The public should not view these Omicron-based boosters as some kind of silver bullet that will change the face of the pandemic and solve all their problems. It will have a marginal impact compared to the recall we currently have,” he said.

“TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE WAITING”

Dr. Eric Topol, genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said getting a second booster provides a survival advantage over a single booster that has been documented in five different studies.

“Too many people are waiting when we have very good evidence,” he said.

Dr Bob Wachter, chief of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said evidence is growing that the further a person has traveled since their last booster, the less protected they are from infection. and serious illnesses.

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

BA.5 has led to a wave of new cases around the world and now accounts for nearly 82% of all coronavirus infections in the United States. Read more

Wachter is not convinced that the retooled BA.4/5 vaccines will be ready for deployment in two months. “That seems a little ambitious to me, and even if they stick to the schedule, it will probably go to the most at-risk groups first,” he said. “I think it’s probably in three or four months for the average person.”

Pfizer told Reuters it had manufactured a few million BA.4/5 vaccines.

As for the newly licensed Novavax Inc (NVAX.O) vaccine, the company has not yet sought approval for use as a booster.

Moore, who took part in the Novavax clinical trial, said while it’s a great vaccine, the company’s boosters are unlikely to be available soon. Novavax said it is developing a BA.4/5 booster and aims to have it ready by the fourth quarter.

“Anything in the pipeline is months away,” Topol said. “This is a more virulent and more pathogenic version of the virus and being protected as best you can is smart.”

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Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, additional reporting by Mike Erman in Maplewood, NJ; Editing by Caroline Humer, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman

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