COVID-19

COVID-19 Weekly Watch: Omicron booster next?

Sofia Tomacruz
COVID-19 Weekly Watch: Omicron booster next?

COPING WITH A PANDEMIC. Rush hour commuters queue at the MRT Edsa station in Pasay CIty after the government implemented a month-long free train ride, on March 28, 2022.

Rappler file photo

This week of June 12, 2022 we look at the prospects for an Omicron booster and when masks should stay on

MANILA, Philippines – Coronavirus cases in the Philippines have increased slightly in recent weeks while positivity rates across the country and Metro Manila also saw a climb. Despite this, the Department of Health said cases still appeared to be at a plateau for now. 

Roughly 63% of all Filipinos have been fully vaccinated. 

Here’s what we’re watching this week of June 12, 2022:

Moderna on a new Omicron booster

Moderna earlier said that preliminary results on an updated COVID-19 vaccine it was developing to target Omicron showed a more robust antibody response against the variant compared to its current vaccine. The firm plans to submit its data to the United States Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, calling the updated shot its “lead candidate” for a booster later in 2022. 

  • Moderna tested a bivalent vaccine, which contained mRNA coding of the original strain of the virus and Omicron. Findings from a clinical trial involving 84 volunteers saw the shot produce 1.75 times the level of neutralizing antibodies against Omicron as compared to the current Moderna vaccine alone. The updated booster was given after three doses of the existing Moderna shot was administered. 
  • The results appear encouraging, but here’s one thing experts are concerned about, as reported by the New York Times: “Many experts worry that the virus is evolving so quickly that it is outpacing the ability to modify vaccines, at least as long as the United States relies on human clinical trials for results.”
    • In the past few months alone, the virus has managed to spew out at least four concerning subvariants, each more transmissible than its predecessor and all still with the capability to severely sicken a person. 
    • The Times reported that Moderna did not release any data on how its updated vaccine worked against BA.4 or BA.5, but “that a very small sample, together with isolated other studies, suggested that the levels of neutralizing antibodies triggered by the updated vaccine were two to threefold lower against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.”
  • Given this scenario, some experts have argued that rather than targeting forms of the virus that have been overtaken, targeting more recent versions would be more efficient. What poses a challenge here is the time it takes to mount large-scale clinical trials among humans, which take months even in its condensed state. 
  • One possible alternative to this, were production to try and keep up with the virus, is to have updates to vaccines based on data from laboratory tests and trials animals, rather than robust human clinical trials. This wouldn’t be entirely new, seeing as it is similar to how flu vaccines are formulated each year. 
  • In answering these questions, experts, regulators, and manufacturers will need to be thinking of factors like time, getting ahead of the virus, as well as the costs and logistics of not only producing shots but delivering them across the world once more. These are only some of the considerations involved in deciding how to move forward with a vaccination strategy. 
Masks to stay on for now

Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia found herself at odds with national officials once again, after she signed an executive order that made the wearing of masks in outdoor spaces optional in the province. Cebu province is still under Alert Level 2, the second lowest quarantine status.

  • Under Garcia’s order, masks are still required in closed, air-conditioned spaces, and residents are encouraged to still wear masks in crowded outdoor places.
  • The Department of Health said Garcia did not consult the agency before making the call, while the Department of the Interior and Local Government ordered local police to disregard Garcia’s memo.
    • The independent Cebu City, meanwhile, said it would keep its mask mandate since the city was more dense.
  • As pandemic fatigue sets in further and the push to revitalize the economy grows stronger, Cebu province may be only a preview of what the coming months hold when it comes to implementing COVID-19 protocols. 
  • In the meantime, the DOH urged the public to keep masks on, considering the slight increase in cases over the past few weeks. “Do not take off your masks outdoors if you’re unvaccinated, in a crowded area, or in the presence of immunocompromised individuals or individuals with comorbidities,” they added. 

– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.