On Monday, the United Kingdom approved an updated version of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that targets both the original coronavirus variant and the omicron variant, becoming the first country to do so.

“An updated version of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna that targets two coronavirus variants (known as a ‘bivalent’ vaccine) has today been approved for adult booster doses by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency after it was found to meet the UK regulator’s standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” an official government release said, per CNN.

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What did the clinical trials for the bivalent vaccine find?

The clinical trials found that this vaccine generated “a strong immune response” against both omicron and the original strain of COVID-19 from 2020, while the side effects remained the same as seen in the original Moderna booster shot, the release stated.

Data from Moderna showed that this adapted booster offered 1.69 times higher protection against subvariants than the original booster shot.

What does the approval of the bivalent vaccine mean?

Dr. June Raine, the chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in Britain, said she was “pleased” to approve the vaccine based on the data that met the safety, quality and effectiveness standards.

“The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the U.K. continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives,” she said.

“What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve,” Raine added.

According to Reuters, the European Medicines Agency expects the European Union to approve the vaccine by September, while in the United States, the Biden administration plans to offer the updated boosters in September.

Can you protect yourself against omicron?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there is no evidence that the two new subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are more severe than others, but it is clear that immunity acquired through previous infection or vaccination is not as effective against them, as I previously reported.

If vaccines aren’t preventing infections, then what are they doing? Dr. Sandra Adams, a professor of biology and virologist at Montclair State University, told NJ Advance Media that the newer mutations allow new strains to evade antibodies. “However, vaccines and previous infections still provide protection from serious disease,” she said.

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Is it easier to get reinfected with the new omicron subvariants?

The newer subvariants have the ability to evade immunity from vaccines or prior infections, or both, per the Deseret News.

Since BA.4 and BA.5 have become the dominant strains, Dr. Wesley Long, an experimental pathologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, told CNN that he has seen cases of reinfection.

“I have seen some cases of reinfection with people who had a BA.2 variant in the last few months,” he added. While vaccine immunity helps lower the severity of infection, it doesn’t offer complete protection.

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What are the top omicron symptoms?

As previously reported, omicron subvariants have a shorter incubation period, which is why the symptoms may appear earlier.

The most common omicron-related symptoms are:

  • Cough.
  • Fatigue.
  • Congestion.
  • Runny nose.