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Pfizer/BioNTech: Omicron-based shots’ response improves

In this file photo taken on January 10, 2022, a health worker shows a vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Santiago. (JAVIER TORRES / AFP)

NEW YORK – Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said on Saturday that a booster dose of updated versions of their COVID-19 vaccine, modified specifically to combat the Omicron coronavirus variant, generated a higher immune response against that variant.

Advisors to the US Food and Drug Administration are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to update COVID-19 vaccines for the fall. 

The updated shots are likely to be redesigned to combat the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, experts say.

Pfizer and BioNTech said that 30 and 60 microgram doses of a shot targeting just the BA.1 Omicron subvariant that was circulating last winter elicited a 13.5 and 19.6-fold increase in neutralizing geometric titers against that subvariant. 

A version of the shot that contained both the redesigned vaccine and their original vaccine elicited a 9.1 and 10.9-fold increase, they said.

The results were from a trial of 1,234 people aged 56 or older. The shots were well-tolerated in participants, the companies said.

They said that early laboratory studies suggest that both Omicron-modified candidates neutralize the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants that have been circulating more recently, though to a lesser extent than they do for BA.1, with titers approximately 3-fold lower. 

The companies say they are continuing to collect data on how well the boosters perform versus the more recently circulating strains.

The logo of Valneva SE Group is pictured at the company's headquarters in Saint-Herblain, near Nantes, western France, on July 30, 2020. (JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP)

French drugmaker Valneva

French drugmaker Valneva's COVID-19 vaccine has received marketing authorization from the European Commission for use as a primary vaccination in people from 18 to 50 years of age, the company said on Friday.

The marketing authorization will cover the European Union's member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

"Now that we have received this full marketing authorization, we hope that the EC and its member states will place orders that reflect this demand," Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelback said in a statement.

Valneva has been trying to salvage a supply contract with the European Commission for up 60 million doses, which the Commission has signalled it wants to amend to a smaller number of doses due to application delays and countries in Europe already having excess supply.

Britain canceled its Valneva vaccine contract in 2021, but the company has secured approvals in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Valneva's vaccine uses technology already employed for decades in shots against polio, influenza and hepatitis. The company thinks it will win over people who had refused COVID vaccines that used mRNA and other new technologies.

A doctor holds a vial of the Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac against COVID-19 as inoculation started in front of the Santo Antonio church in Mateus Leme, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, Jan 19, 2021. (DOUGLAS MAGNO / AFP)

South Africa

China's Sinovac Biotech said on Saturday that South Africa's health products regulator has granted conditional registration to its coronavirus vaccine CoronaVac for people aged 18 and above.