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Health Canada approves Moderna’s Omicron booster vaccine

bivalent vaccines designed to recognize specific mutations in the Omicron BA.1 subvariant
Health-care worker Thi Nguyen administers Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at a clinic in Ottawa on March 30, 2021. Health officials are expected to make an announcement on the ongoing fight against COVID-19 as provincial health systems eagerly await the approval of a vaccine that targets the Omicron variant of the virus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Health Canada has approved a new COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna that targets both the original strain of the novel coronavirus and the Omicron variant.

The new shots approved by Health Canada, called bivalent vaccines, are designed to recognize specific mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron BA.1 subvariant.

In a decision posted on Health Canada’s website, the regulator says data show the new vaccine induces a similar immune response to the original strain of the COVID-19 virus and significantly higher responses to the Omicron BA.1 variant, when compared with the earlier version of the Moderna vaccine.

The United Kingdom approved Moderna’s new vaccine two weeks ago, and the United States Food and Drug Administration gave Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Omicron-fighting shots the green light earlier this week.

The version approved in the U.S. targets newer and more prevalent strains of the Omicron variant than the one submitted for approval in Canada.

Canada has already purchased 12 million doses of Moderna’s version of the Omicron vaccine,which includes converting some existing orders for the original Moderna vaccine so that the newly adapted version will be delivered instead.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is expected to hold a press conference Thursday to speak to the importance of getting a booster shot.

Duclos has already signalled that a swift rollout of the vaccines will be important to fend off another potentially large wave of infections in the fall.

The Omicron variant arrived in Canada in late 2021 and has spread aggressively ever since. Subvariants of Omicron are now by far the most common strains of the virus.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that people over the age of 18 should be offered the Omicron booster.

If the newer shot isn’t available, the committee says people should instead opt for a booster shot of the original COVID-19 vaccine to ensure timely protection.

The committee also says the Omicron shot should be considered for children aged 12 to 17 who are immunocompromised, though the vaccine is not approved for use in kids and the expert recommendation makes clear that the relative risks and benefits remain uncertain.

—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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