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COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna ‘provides good clinical protection’ against Omicron subvariants

Moderna’s experimental Omicron booster generates high levels of antibodies that neutralize subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, according to preliminary clinical trial data.

These subvariants have gained a foothold in the US and Australia, and are already driving a new wave of infections in the UK.

Moderna’s results, which have not been peer-reviewed, build on an announcement earlier this month that people given the new booster made more Omicron-fighting antibodies in general than if they got a fourth dose of the original vaccine.

Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said trial participants’ antibody levels were high enough to provide “good clinical protection” against BA.4 and BA.5.

“We know that an antibody level of about 400 units … provides very good clinical protection against COVID infection, and certainly against more severe disease, hospitalization and death,” he said.

Of the 437 adults who had the Omicron-specific booster, those who hadn’t yet had COVID generated average BA.4- and BA.5-neutralising-antibody levels of 727 units after a month.

People who had a prior COVID infection saw a massive jump in BA.4- and BA.5-neutralizing antibodies: more than 2,700 units.

Participants are being tracked to see if they do, eventually, catch COVID, and when.

University of Queensland infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist Paul Griffin said neutralizing antibody responses were a good surrogate for protection, but seeing how well the booster worked in the real world was most important.

“Obviously, that takes more time to accumulate that data, so this is a useful first step, but then clinical studies will follow that will hopefully show efficacy in people.”

A two-in-one COVID shot

The updated Moderna booster, called mRNA-1273.214, was developed in January, when Omicron was sweeping Australia.

The shot contains instructions in the form of mRNA for your body to construct spike proteins — protrusions the virus uses to infect our cells.

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