A new vaccine by Moderna that specifically attacks the omicron...

A new vaccine by Moderna that specifically attacks the omicron variant of the coronavirus was approved for use Monday in the United Kingdom. Credit: Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images / Sipa USA via AP

Long Island health experts hope that within months or even weeks, they'll see a COVID-19 vaccine available like one authorized Monday by the United Kingdom that specifically attacks the omicron variant.

The updated version of the vaccine, produced by Moderna and authorized for the first time globally in the U.K., will defend people against both the original COVID-19 virus that emerged in 2020 and the omicron BA.1 variant, which surfaced last November and eventually sent cases soaring around the world.

Medical experts on Long Island hailed the approval as a milestone in the battle to control COVID-19 as it enters a new phase.

“I’m definitely encouraged and pleased and very happy about this news,” said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn.

The U.S. versions, which are currently being developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, will have to address the more recent, and most common, omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency said Monday it had given the green light to Moderna's combination "bivalent" vaccine, which will be used as an adult booster shot.

"What this [combination] vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve," said Dr. June Raine, the head of Britain's health care and medicines regulator.

The updated vaccine “should be just around the corner hopefully for us as well,” Bulbin said. “At some point next month hopefully it’s ready for prime time and we can start advertising and administering that booster.”

It's still difficult to pinpoint exactly when that will be, said Dr. Fred Davis, associate chair of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and a leading spokesperson on COVID-19 for Northwell Health.

“It’s always one of those things that is hard to guess,” he said. “We tend to have a cautious FDA” that must look over a lot of data.  

“That could be months, would be my guess," Davis said, "would be the earliest that we would expect to see something like” approval of the updated vaccine.

Davis added that the U.K. approval is “great. I think this is the next step that we’ve all kind of expected.”

Moderna and Pfizer have not said when exactly they expect it to be ready for the United States.

Pfizer said in a statement that it is “targeting this fall for the rollout in the U.S.” of an updated vaccine that would also protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

Stephane Bancel, Moderna's chief executive, predicted the booster would play an "important role" in protecting people against COVID-19 in the winter.

The vaccines would not necessarily stop people from contracting the coronavirus, but would largely prevent them from getting seriously ill, hospitalized or dying from it, according to Bulbin and Davis.

They said COVID-19 is likely to stay with us permanently, and that getting a vaccine shot against the virus every year — like a flu shot — will probably be a part of our lives.

“Maybe this will become a pattern for the future,” Bulbin said.

COVID-19 is “never going away,” he added. “At some point they are going to say it is fully endemic, meaning it’s here to stay and perhaps it doesn’t alter everybody’s daily life.”

Some people may still show up sick at the emergency room with COVID-19 “but it’s not overwhelming the health care system, it’s not ruling everybody’s life on a hypervigilant daily basis. But it’s something that is here.”

The omicron variant is highly contagious, but generally produces less severe symptoms in people than other variants, experts say.

But it can still kill or hospitalize people. Eleven people died in New York State on Sunday of causes linked to the virus, according to state data.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing on Long Island dipped to 8.65%, continuing a downward trend over the last several weeks.  Nassau County registered 319 new daily confirmed cases, while Suffolk had 335.

British regulators said the side effects of the updated vaccine were similar to those for Moderna's original booster shot, and typically "mild and self-resolving."

Britain's health officials have not yet decided if the tweaked vaccine will be used in its fall strategy. In July, the government said everyone 50 and over would be eligible for a COVID-19 booster in the fall.

The FDA in June told vaccine makers that any booster shots tweaked for the fall would have to include protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, not the BA.1 subvariant included in Moderna's latest shot.

The agency last month said it was no longer considering authorizing a second COVID-19 booster for all adults but would instead focus on revamped vaccines for the autumn that target the newest viral subvariants.

The subvariant BA.5 is now responsible for about 70% of global cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Scientists warn that the continued genetic evolution of COVID-19 means drugmakers will likely be one step behind the virus in their efforts to tailor vaccines.

"The virus is unlikely to stand still and omicron-targeted immunity, might push the virus down other evolutionary paths," warned Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at Britain's University of Nottingham. Still, he said the new Moderna vaccine would likely offer protection.

"Unless there is a major shift in the virus, immunity will continue to protect the vast majority from serious disease caused by emerging variants," he said in a statement.

With AP

Long Island health experts hope that within months or even weeks, they'll see a COVID-19 vaccine available like one authorized Monday by the United Kingdom that specifically attacks the omicron variant.

The updated version of the vaccine, produced by Moderna and authorized for the first time globally in the U.K., will defend people against both the original COVID-19 virus that emerged in 2020 and the omicron BA.1 variant, which surfaced last November and eventually sent cases soaring around the world.

Medical experts on Long Island hailed the approval as a milestone in the battle to control COVID-19 as it enters a new phase.

“I’m definitely encouraged and pleased and very happy about this news,” said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn.

What to know

  • The United Kingdom has approved a new coronavirus vaccine that specifically attacks the omicron variant.
  • Pfizer-BioNtech said it is targeting the fall for the rollout of a similar vaccine in the United States.
  • The FDA says that the vaccine must also address the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The U.S. versions, which are currently being developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, will have to address the more recent, and most common, omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency said Monday it had given the green light to Moderna's combination "bivalent" vaccine, which will be used as an adult booster shot.

"What this [combination] vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve," said Dr. June Raine, the head of Britain's health care and medicines regulator.

The updated vaccine “should be just around the corner hopefully for us as well,” Bulbin said. “At some point next month hopefully it’s ready for prime time and we can start advertising and administering that booster.”

It's still difficult to pinpoint exactly when that will be, said Dr. Fred Davis, associate chair of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and a leading spokesperson on COVID-19 for Northwell Health.

“It’s always one of those things that is hard to guess,” he said. “We tend to have a cautious FDA” that must look over a lot of data.  

“That could be months, would be my guess," Davis said, "would be the earliest that we would expect to see something like” approval of the updated vaccine.

Davis added that the U.K. approval is “great. I think this is the next step that we’ve all kind of expected.”

Moderna and Pfizer have not said when exactly they expect it to be ready for the United States.

Pfizer said in a statement that it is “targeting this fall for the rollout in the U.S.” of an updated vaccine that would also protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

Stephane Bancel, Moderna's chief executive, predicted the booster would play an "important role" in protecting people against COVID-19 in the winter.

The vaccines would not necessarily stop people from contracting the coronavirus, but would largely prevent them from getting seriously ill, hospitalized or dying from it, according to Bulbin and Davis.

They said COVID-19 is likely to stay with us permanently, and that getting a vaccine shot against the virus every year — like a flu shot — will probably be a part of our lives.

“Maybe this will become a pattern for the future,” Bulbin said.

COVID-19 is “never going away,” he added. “At some point they are going to say it is fully endemic, meaning it’s here to stay and perhaps it doesn’t alter everybody’s daily life.”

Some people may still show up sick at the emergency room with COVID-19 “but it’s not overwhelming the health care system, it’s not ruling everybody’s life on a hypervigilant daily basis. But it’s something that is here.”

The omicron variant is highly contagious, but generally produces less severe symptoms in people than other variants, experts say.

But it can still kill or hospitalize people. Eleven people died in New York State on Sunday of causes linked to the virus, according to state data.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing on Long Island dipped to 8.65%, continuing a downward trend over the last several weeks.  Nassau County registered 319 new daily confirmed cases, while Suffolk had 335.

British regulators said the side effects of the updated vaccine were similar to those for Moderna's original booster shot, and typically "mild and self-resolving."

Britain's health officials have not yet decided if the tweaked vaccine will be used in its fall strategy. In July, the government said everyone 50 and over would be eligible for a COVID-19 booster in the fall.

The FDA in June told vaccine makers that any booster shots tweaked for the fall would have to include protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, not the BA.1 subvariant included in Moderna's latest shot.

The agency last month said it was no longer considering authorizing a second COVID-19 booster for all adults but would instead focus on revamped vaccines for the autumn that target the newest viral subvariants.

The subvariant BA.5 is now responsible for about 70% of global cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Scientists warn that the continued genetic evolution of COVID-19 means drugmakers will likely be one step behind the virus in their efforts to tailor vaccines.

"The virus is unlikely to stand still and omicron-targeted immunity, might push the virus down other evolutionary paths," warned Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at Britain's University of Nottingham. Still, he said the new Moderna vaccine would likely offer protection.

"Unless there is a major shift in the virus, immunity will continue to protect the vast majority from serious disease caused by emerging variants," he said in a statement.

With AP

Latest videos