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Singapore

Moderna’s bivalent COVID-19 vaccine also creates antibodies against BA.4, BA.5 variants, says its chief medical officer

Singapore will receive the Moderna 1273.214 booster, which primarily targets the original strain and the BA.1 Omicron variant.

Moderna’s bivalent COVID-19 vaccine also creates antibodies against BA.4, BA.5 variants, says its chief medical officer

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (File photo: AFP/Philippe Lopez)

SINGAPORE: Moderna's updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that will be used in Singapore as a booster shot will help create antibodies against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants as well, Moderna’s chief medical officer said on Wednesday (Sep 21).

Earlier this month, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) granted interim authorisation to Moderna’s bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine, which targets both the original strain and the BA.1 variant of the coronavirus.

The BA.1 variant was the dominant strain in Singapore in the early parts of the Omicron wave, but the numbers of BA.4 and BA.5 cases have risen.

On Wednesday, Moderna’s chief medical officer Dr Paul Burton told reporters that the company has two boosters – the mRNA-1273.214 that Singapore is receiving, and the mRNA-1273.222.

The mRNA 1273.214 booster targets mainly the original strain and BA.1 variant. It has been authorised in Singapore, the UK, Switzerland, the European Union, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

The other booster targets the later BA.4 and BA.5 variants, and is only authorised in the United States.

Dr Burton said the bivalent vaccine that Singapore is receiving also creates “very high” antibody levels against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

He said both boosters are “excellent”, and they target critical members of the Omicron strain. It comes down to what countries or regions want, he added.

Data from the firm was "extremely reassuring" that the BA.1 booster also creates high antibody levels against BA.4 and BA.5, said Dr Burton.

HSA said preliminary data from an exploratory analysis suggested that the BA.1 booster may stimulate antibodies against other variants, including the Omicron BA.4, BA.5, Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma.

“(This is) so important, because already now we’re seeing new Omicron subvariants coming along. We already know about this BA2.75.2 variant that has almost complete immune escape against antibodies generated either by natural infection or by early versions of the vaccine,” he said.

“So it’s important that people get vaccinated now and begin to … rebuild that immunity against these new variants.”

As of Tuesday, 93 per cent of Singapore's population has completed the full vaccination regimen, while 80 per cent have received booster shots.

When asked how vaccines will keep up with an evolving SARS-CoV-2 virus, Dr Burton said the original Moderna vaccine created antibodies against the Delta variant, even though it was not created specifically to target Delta.

By creating a bivalent booster that targets both the original virus and BA.1, a broad set of antibodies will be created.

Dr Burton said that while there is talk about Omicron being a “mild variant”, that is not true for children. In the first eight months of this year, there were more deaths in children due to COVID-19 than there were in the first eight months of 2020 and 2021 combined.

He added that it will become “absolutely necessary” to have a new vaccine, or an adapted vaccine, every year.

In February this year, Moderna announced plans to set up a new subsidiary in Singapore, as well as in Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Dr Burton said there have been “amazing talent” in the region, and people have been appointed.

“I think they are imminent … we have contracts and offers going out to people,” he said, adding that it is on the verge of making an announcement in the “coming weeks”.

IS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC OVER?

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden declared the pandemic over in the United States. Statistics showed that nearly 400 people in the US on average are dying from the virus each day.

Dr Burton said the world is going through a “period of stability”, coming down from very high death rates.

But the coronavirus continues to evolve, taking on characteristics of increased transmission and rapid reproduction, and will “cause problems”, he warned.

“I think we have to be very vigilant and be very mindful about where the virus is going … I would just reiterate to get boosted now and we can’t get our guard down. We have to continue to monitor this virus,” the chief medical officer added.

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Source: CNA/mi(ta)

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