Adults over 50 and clinically vulnerable people will be offered the first Covid-19 jab to target two strains of the virus, as part of the UK’s autumn booster programme.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said that Moderna’s new bivalent vaccine, which targets both the original Covid strain and the Omicron variant, will be part of the rollout from early September.
People over the age of five who are classed as most at risk from the virus will be eligible, as will their household contacts, NHS frontline and care home staff and carers aged 16 or over.
The UK became the first nation to authorise the vaccine, described as “next generation” by experts, when the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved it on Monday.
Mr Barclay said those eligible for the autumn booster rollout would be contacted from early September.
He said: “I have accepted the independent advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on which vaccines should be offered in this autumn’s booster programme.
“This includes a Moderna bivalent vaccine which will target two different variants – the Omicron and original strain of Covid.
“Vaccines remain our best defence against Covid, and this safe and effective vaccine will broaden immunity and potentially improve protections against some variants as we learn to live with this virus.
“Our vaccine rollout to date has been world leading – it has already saved countless lives and reduced the pressure on the NHS.
“We will begin to contact those eligible from early September, and I would urge people to come forward as soon as they are invited so together we can keep each other safe and protect our NHS.”
Stephane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, described it as a “next generation Covid-19 vaccine” which will play an “important role in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19” over the winter.
Mr Bancel said: “We are delighted with the MHRA’s authorisation of Spikevax Bivalent Original/Omicron, our next generation Covid-19 vaccine.
“This represents the first authorisation of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, further highlighting the dedication and leadership of the UK public health authorities in helping to end the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, previously said the new jab can boost a person’s antibodies to such high levels that it may only be needed annually.
The MHRA said that the vaccine’s side effects are the same as those seen in the original Moderna booster dose and were typically mild.
Chief executive Dr June Raine described it as “a sharpened tool in our armoury” protecting the UK against Covid-19.
Dr Raine said: “The first generation of Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives.
“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.”
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, an independent body sponsored by the DHSC to advise ministers on medicinal products, said the vaccine was safe to use.
He added that since coronavirus is “continually evolving in order to evade the immunity provided by vaccines” constant updates to the jabs are needed.
Prof Pirmohamed said that a recent paper in the Lancet medical journal suggested that coronavirus vaccines have prevented up to 20 million deaths in their first year of use.
Stephen Evans, pharmacoepidemiology professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added that the jab is based on the original Moderna jab, developed to target Omicron.
Prof Evans said: “This vaccine contains two components; the first is the original Moderna Covid vaccine for which there is both very large clinical trial data and massive experience following its introduction in many countries including the UK.
“The second is a modification of that original vaccine targeted at the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 which is a new component.”
Moderna said it has also completed its applications for regulatory approval of the booster in Australia, Canada, and the EU.
The Royal College of General Practitioners said that participation in the Covid vaccination programme for GP practices is optional and many have taken part in the rollout.
Some practices which have been dealing with intense workloads and workforce pressures may have felt unable to take part, it added.