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US drug maker Moderna announced on Wednesday that it has started clinical trials of a Covid booster vaccine that is designed specifically to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. A day before, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech had released a joint statement to announce they have begun a trial to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity of an Omicron-based vaccine candidate in healthy adults aged between 18 to 55 years. The companies are expecting to the shots available by March.
In its statement, Moderna said that the trials will involve a total of 600 adults ages 18 and over. The participants will be divided two groups the first group will have participants who have already received two-doses of Moderna's original vaccine at least six months ago, and the second group will include individuals who have received the two-dose vaccine as well as the currently authorized booster shot.
Participants in both groups will be given a single dose of the omicron-specific booster. This means it will be evaluated as both a third and a fourth dose.
The first participant has already received a dose of the omicron-specific booster shot, the company said in its statement.
The company also announced the publication of results on the efficacy of the currently authorized booster against Omicron in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Six months after the booster injection, the levels of neutralizing antibodies against Omicron declined 6.3-fold from the peak observed 29 days after the shot. However, the levels remained detectable in all participants, it said.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said that though they are reassured by the antibody persistence against Omicron at six months after the booster, they are developing their Omicron-specific variant vaccine booster candidate, given the long-term threat demonstrated by Omicron's immune escape.
Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are based on messenger RNA technology, which allows them to easily update the vaccines to keep up with mutations specific to new variants.
With inputs from agencies
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