The European medicines regulator on Thursday approved the first Covid-19 vaccines adapted to the Omicron variant, those from Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna. Here is what we know about these new vaccines.
Summer is ending and very quickly, all the more so with the start of the new school year which has just taken place, the question of a strong comeback of Covid-19 will arise. In this context, the prospect of next winter is already worrying the authorities. Could it be preserved from the epidemic thanks to the vaccines against Omicron developed by Pfizer and Moderna and which have just been approved by Europe? Response elements.
Messenger RNA vaccines
As with the first version of the vaccines brought to market by Pfizer and Moderna at the end of 2020, messenger RNA technology was used to develop this second generation. In fact, they are “simply” adapted versions of the original vaccines Comirnaty from Pfizer/BioNTech and Spikevax from Moderna, as explained by the laboratories.
The added value of these two vaccines is to also fight against the Omicron variant in addition to the original strain, which has almost disappeared. They are intended for people aged 12 and over who have received at least one primary vaccination against Covid-19. Early vaccines already offered some protection against Omicron and its subvariants, but not as effective.
One targeted Omicron sub-variant, but not all
The problem with these new vaccines is that they “only” target the Omicron BA.1 subvariant. It was the one that first came out on top, but in recent months the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages have emerged as the dominant strains in the world. They quickly took the place of the previous Alpha and Delta variants and are notably responsible for the waves of new cases that occurred in Europe and the United States before the summer.
An update expected in the fall
Vaccines targeting the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are therefore eagerly awaited by European countries so that they can launch booster campaigns ahead of a feared resurgence in Covid-19 cases this winter. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has in this sense recently declared that it is aiming for the approval “from the autumn” of anti-Covid vaccines targeting these two sub-variants. The American health authorities have already authorized on Wednesday the new version of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna specifically targeting these BA.4 and BA.5 lineages.
“The positive opinions issued today (Thursday 1 September, editor’s note) by the European Medicines Agency on the first two variant-adapted mRNA vaccines, from BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna, are important to protect Europeans against the probable risk waves of fall and winter infections,” European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement. “We have to be ready for another winter with Covid-19,” she added.
Same side effects
The EMA said its review of the adapted Pfizer and Moderna vaccines focused on data from laboratory studies and tests on the immune response against the original strain and against the Omicron variant. “The side effects seen with the adapted vaccines are comparable to those seen with the original vaccines and are generally mild and short-lived,” the agency said.
Recall that all Omicron variants tend to have a milder disease course as they settle less in the lungs and more in the upper nasal passages, causing symptoms such as fever, fatigue and loss of smell.