UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID booster targeting Omicron BA.4/5

November 9, 2022 8:05 AM EST

FILE PHOTO: Test tubes are seen in front of displayed Pfizer and Biontech logos in this illustration taken, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Pushkala Aripaka

(Reuters) -Britain's health regulator on Wednesday approved the country's first two-pronged COVID-19 booster targeting the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants and the original coronavirus strain.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech was approved for use as a booster in people 12 years and older after it was found to meet safety, quality and effectiveness standards.

Britain had already approved so-called bivalent vaccines targeting the Omicron BA.1 sub-variant from Pfizer-BioNTech and rival Moderna, but now has added a first against BA.4/5 in its arsenal with the latest authorisation.

The regulator on Wednesday also approved Novavax's COVID-19 shot as a booster for adults.

"All approved COVID booster vaccines help to improve the protection obtained from earlier doses of the vaccine and help give longer-term protection against getting seriously ill from COVID-19," the MHRA said.

The UK has recorded more than 23 million COVID-19 infections and over 190,000 deaths, the seventh-highest globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with about 150 million vaccine doses having been given by early September for a population of around 67 million.

Omicron sub-variants BA.4/5 dominated the summer and are still behind the majority of infections globally, but newer Omicron sub-variants are gaining ground, with hundreds of them being tracked by scientists, WHO officials said last month.

While existing COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the coronavirus, which originally emerged in China in December 2019, has evolved.

Warnings over a possible "twindemic" of COVID-19 and flu have also been issued by UK officials after the end of restrictions meant increased social contact.

Pfizer and BioNTech last week said their shot tailored to BA.4/5 produced a strong antibody response in older adults than the original shot after one month, and in October said it generated a strong immune response.

Healthcare regulators for the European Union, the United States and Canada had already approved the retooled Pfizer-BioNTech shot last month.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Mark Potter)

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FDA, Reuters