The UK is the first country in the world to approve the use of the so-called bivalent vaccine, manufactured by Moderna and known as “Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron”, in people aged 18 and over.
The jab, which triggers a strong immune response against both Omicron (BA.1) and the original 2020 virus, will be offered to millions of over-50s ahead of winter — as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
A number of additional vaccines are set to be used for the autumn programme, including the original Pfizer and Moderna shots, which have been safely administered to tens of millions of Britons throughout the pandemic, as well as the Novavax jab.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the JCVI, said: “All of the available booster vaccines offer very good protection against severe illness from Covid-19. As more vaccines continue to be developed and approved, the JCVI will consider the benefits of including them in the UK programme.
“It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn, whichever vaccine is on offer. This will increase your protection against being severely ill from Covid-19 as we move into winter.”
The Spikevax vaccine was given the green light earlier on Monday by the UK medicines regulator (MHRA). Its decision was based on clinical trial data that showed the booster triggered “a strong immune response” against both Omicron and the original virus that emerged in Wuhan in 2019, it said.
In June, Moderna said trial data showed that when given as a fourth dose, the variant-adapted shot raised virus-neutralising antibodies eight-fold against Omicron.
The MHRA also cited an exploratory analysis in which the vaccine was found to generate a good immune response against the currently dominant Omicron offshoots BA.4 and BA.5. No serious safety concerns were identified with the new formulation, the agency added.
Earlier this summer, healths official announced that all people aged 50 and over are to be offered a Covid-19 booster and flu jab.
Roughly 29 million Britons will be eligible, with over-75s and the most vulnerable expected to start receiving their doses from September, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
Under guidance outlined by the JCVI, all frontline health and social care workers will be offered another booster jab, as will those aged 5 to 49 who are deemed clinically at-risk, including pregnant women, and household contacts of people with compromised immune systems.
For people aged 75 and over, this will be their fifth Covid jab, having already received a spring booster. For the over-50s, it will be the fourth dose.
The JCVI has said it will review the use of any additional vaccines which are redesigned to target multiple forms of the Covid virus.
NHS England is set to confirm details on how and when eligible people can access the autumn booster vaccine in due course.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: “Although cases of Covid-19 are relatively low at present, we are expecting to see the virus circulating more widely during the winter months.
“The booster is being offered to those at higher risk of severe illness and by taking up the booster vaccine this autumn, you will increase your protection ahead of the winter months, when respiratory viruses are typically at their peak.”