Moderna, Novavax Update Vaccines as COVID-19 Variants Cause Rise in Cases


The CDC and WHO are currently tracking several variants that are driving the majority of new cases around the world.

Although the COVID-19 public health emergency was officially ended by the federal government in May, case counts are currently trending upwards as several mutations of the virus continue to circulate. The CDC is tracking numerous different variants, but 2 of them in particular—EG.5 and FL.1.5.1—account for the majority of new infections in the United States.

According to the latest data from the public health agency, 20.6% and 13.3% of new cases were caused by the EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants, respectively.1 These were followed by several different strains of the XBB variant, with the closest being XBB.1.16 at 10.7% of total new cases.

The CDC and the World Health Organization are also currently tracking another new strain that is raising concerns. The BA.2.86 variant has 36 mutations from the XBB.1.5 variant and has been detected in the United States, Denmark, and Israel. According to Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, mutational scanning indicates that the BA.2.86 variant “will have equal or greater escape than XBB.1.5 from antibodies elicited by pre-Omicron and first-generation Omicron variants.”2

Hospitalizations still remain far below previous peaks seen during the pandemic, but they have also been increasing over the past few weeks. From August 6 to August 12, there were 12,613 hospital admissions due to COVID-19—a 21.6% increase from the previous week.3

However, experts are not as concerned as we head into the fall and winter season, where cases are likely to increase further. Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, told NCB News that we’re in a different place compared to the past few years of the pandemic.4 This is partly due to widespread immunity, as well as updated booster shots that are set to be available this fall.

On Tuesday, Novavax announced in a release that its updated protein-based vaccine candidate induced neutralizing antibody responses to both the EG.5.1 and XBB.1.16.6 variants in small animal and non-human primate studies.5 Non-clinical data also showed the vaccine induced functional immune responses to the XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16, and XBB.2.3 variants. The vaccine is currently approved under an emergency use authorization for individuals 12 years of age and older.

"Our data have shown that Novavax's protein based COVID vaccine induces broadly neutralizing responses against XBB subvariants, including EG.5.1 and XBB.1.16.6," Filip Dubovsky, president of research and development at Novavax, said in a release. "We have a lot of confidence in our updated COVID vaccine and are working diligently with global regulatory bodies to ensure our protein-based vaccine is available this fall."

Moderna also recently announced positive data for its updated COVID-19 vaccine. The company said that preliminary data showed its vaccine provided a boost in neutralizing antibodies against the EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants.6 Moderna said that it has submitted data to the FDA and hopes it will be ready for the fall.

"These new results, which show that our updated COVID-19 vaccine generates a robust immune response against the rapidly spreading EG.5 and FL 1.5.1 strains and reflects our updated vaccine's ability to address emerging COVID-19 threats," Stephen Hoge, MD, president of Moderna, said in a release. "Moderna is committed to leveraging our mRNA technology to provide health security around the world."

1. COVID Data Tracker. CDC. Accessed August 22, 2023.
2. Bloom, J. New_2nd_gen_BA2_variant. August 17, 2023. Accessed August 22, 2023.
3. COVID Data Tracker. CDC. Accessed August 22, 2023.
4. Edwards E, Thompson A. Covid cases are ticking up. But it's not time to panic, experts say. News Release. NBC News. August 17, 2023. Accessed August 22, 2023.
5. Novavax's Updated Protein-based XBB COVID Vaccine Induced Neutralizing Responses Against Emerging Subvariants, Including EG.5.1 and XBB.1.16.6. News Release. Novavax. August 22, 2023. Accessed August 23, 2023.,-Including-EG-5-1-and-XBB-1-16-6
6. Moderna Clinical Trial Data Confirm Its Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Generates Robust Immune Response in Humans Against Widely Circulating Variants. News Release. Moderna. August 17, 2023. Accessed August 23, 2023.
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