New bivalent COVID vaccine expected in US in fall

Monday, the The UK has become the first country to approve a bivalent booster vaccine for adults, which would target both the original COVID virus and the Omicron variant.

This vaccine, which is probably will be available in the United States starting in the fall, should provide increased and longer lasting protection against COVID and new variants.

Sony Salzman, Coordinating Producer for ABC News’ Medical Unit, sat down with ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast to discuss what people can expect from the new bivalent vaccine and the way forward in the country’s immunization strategy.

START HERE: The UK yesterday became the first country on Earth to approve a new type of vaccine, one that was designed with a newer variant of COVID in mind. Let’s check with ABC’s Sony Salzman from our medical unit. Sony, is this a turning point? What is this vaccine for?

SALZMAN: I think that’s a turning point, Brad. I think what these new vaccines are going to do is move us into the next phase of the pandemic, where like the annual flu shot every year or every season, we kind of have to predict what the virus will make and design a vaccine which is the best defense against this virus.

PHOTO: People line up for a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in San Rafael, California on April 6, 2022.

People line up for a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in San Rafael, California on April 6, 2022.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, FILE

The British government recently authorized a vaccine which is a combination vaccine, it is the Moderna combination vaccine. This is called a bivalent vaccine. And what it does is it still protects against that original Wuhan strain that emerged in 2020, but it also protects against the new BA1 Omicron strain. And so it combines the two in hopes of providing stronger protection against the variants that are currently circulating.

START HERE: Okay, so [with] Cases of Omicron skyrocketed in this country because people just didn’t have the same level of immunity when this variant appeared. So how do I get one of these vaccines, Sony? I want one of these boosters. What’s happening in the United States?

SALZMAN: So it’s also coming to the United States, but what we’re going to get here is actually slightly different. The FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, they looked at the presentations from Moderna and Pfizer and what they said, you know, that’s fine, but even within Omicron we have all these subvariants , is not it ? So Omicron BA1 was the first sub-variant of Omicron, but now here in the US and around the world, in fact, BA5 is the dominant variant.

What the FDA did is they asked the companies to go back and revise the formula and tweak it a bit to better match BA5, and that’s the version they have ordered. It is expected to be licensed in September or possibly October and available in the fall.

START HERE: So, that sounds good; I guess it would be the strain that is a bit newer, but will it work better? ‘Cause I gotta say Sony I see school’s about to start and I’m thinking ‘dang, wouldn’t it be nice to put a new vaccine in play before the kids are all inside for the spread in the families of others.’ Is there a balance here between timing and efficiency?

SALZMAN: Well, you know, just to set expectations, Brad, I think it’s really important to remember that even these vaccines that we’re talking about are the ones that are tweaked, and they’re reformulated, and they’re best matches with these new variants. The virus itself has changed so much that we’re not going to get a foolproof vaccine that protects you against any breakthrough infection.

START HERE: Not expected from these vaccines anymore…

SALZMAN: It’s no longer the expectation, that’s absolutely correct. So, you know, maybe at some point in the future there will be some really interesting vaccine science, early stages of development here, but for these vaccines, and for the way this virus has evolved, this no longer waiting.

They are expected to have higher effectiveness, especially against serious illnesses, and also last longer so that this type of drop does not happen as quickly. So that’s the expectation here, but I want to be clear: either of these vaccines, whether you do a bivalent against BA1 or BA5, or whatever to that effect, it’s going to be better. Every scientist I’ve spoken to says that’s the way to go.

We need to update vaccines to better match the variants that are currently circulating. But it won’t be that kind of ironclad approach where you have a vaccine that completely protects you against infection. It’s not the wait.

START HERE: Got it. In the meantime, we hope to see these Omicron-specific boosters here in the US in September. Sony Salzman from our medical unit, thank you very much.

SALZMAN: Yes, thank you Brad.

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