Moderna is set to begin the second stage of trials for its Omicron-specific Covid vaccine, the company announced Wednesday – even though the latest variant is now fading fast across the United States.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts, based firm administered a dose of its vaccine to the first participant of what is set to be a trial including around 600 people in 24 sites.
It also released data from its first trial of the vaccine, showing that recipients had significant antibody responses to the shot, but much of the protection waned after six months.
The announcement from Moderna, who produces the second most commonly used jab in the U.S., comes days after Pfizer, manufacturer of the most popular jab, announced it had begun a trial of its Omicron-specific jab.
Both firms are working on their shots even though many epidemiologists – including Dr Anthony Fauci – believe Omicron is already on the way out of the US, and will have peaked across the whole of the country within weeks.
Moderna has begun the second stage of trials for its Omicron specific Covid vaccine. The trial will include 600 participants, including 300 people who are boosted and 300 who are fully vaccinated but have not received the additional shot. The company expects the shot to be available by March 2022. Pictured: A woman in Merrillville, Indiana, receives a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine on January 11
Data from the first trial for Moderna’s Omicron vaccine showed that it was effective at raising variant-fighting antibody levels to acceptable levels, but protection would diminish six months later
‘We are reassured by the antibody persistence against Omicron at six months after the currently authorized [vaccine],’ said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a statement.
‘Nonetheless, given the long-term threat demonstrated by Omicron’s immune escape, we are advancing our Omicron-specific variant vaccine booster candidate and we are pleased to begin this part of our Phase 2 study.
‘We are also evaluating whether to include this Omicron-specific candidate in our multivalent booster program.’
The trial participants will be separated into two groups. The first of which will include around 300 participants who initially received the two dose regimen of the Moderna shot at least six months ago, but are not boosted.
Another group, also around 300 participants, will include people who received either the Pfizer or Moderna shots for their first series, then the Moderna booster dose at least three months ago.
The timetable of the Moderna and Pfizer Omicron-specific may not come in time to truly make the impact many hoped.
Omicron, which makes up more than 99 percent of U.S. cases according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is already showing signs of burning out in the U.S., and much of the rest of the world.
After cases rocketed in December and early January – peaking at around 800,000 recorded U.S. cases every day – they have started to come back down.
Covid cases have dropped 20 percent over the past week, down to 615,958 per according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The tri-state area – New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – became America’s initial Omicron epicenter in December, but infection rates there have since gone into freefall, suggesting that predictions the variant would burn itself out quickly were correct.
Health experts have speculated that Omicron would peak soon, with Dr Anthony Fauci saying Sunday it was likely all US states would hit their peak by mid-February at the latest.
Moderna and Pfizer have both laid out timetables for their Omicron-tailored shot to become available in March.
‘By the time we get an Omicron-specific vaccine manufactured, this wave will be over,’ Peter Marks, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
Some doubt the need for these specific shots at all, even if the Omicron surge does manage to last all the way into March.
While the highly mutated variant does have the ability to evade protection against infection from the original two-dose regimen of the Pfizer or Moderna shots, the vaccines are still effective at preventing more severe cases of the virus, and can prevent hospitalizations and death.
Booster shots, which are already widely available in the U.S. and have been received by 25 percent Americans, have also demonstrated an ability to prevent infection from the new strain.
The World Health Organization has also called on pharmaceutical companies to stop developing variant-specific vaccines, and instead shift resources to more universal vaccines that will last longer and prove to be more efficient.