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URMC leads study that will test variant-based vaccines and boosters

Max Schulte

The University of Rochester Medical Center is beginning to recruit for a national vaccine study that will determine whether a variant-based vaccine/booster will be more effective against the coronavirus.

“We're not entirely sure that four doses of the original vaccine are the best we can do. It's possible we can do better than that,” said Dr. Angela Branche, an infectious disease specialist with UR Medicine who is also the study’s national co-chair.

Branche said the goal of the trials is to determine whether a delta, beta, or omicron variant vaccine/booster would protect better than the original doses.

“The hope is that by giving a variant vaccine, we may actually expand and improve the coverage of both the current circulating variants as well as those that may emerge in the future,” Branche said.

The trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, will recruit 600 people over the age of 18. Participants will first receive the Moderna vaccine followed later on by a shot of one of the variant boosters or a variant combination.

“The important question that this trial is trying to answer is maybe we should be combining some variants for the next iteration of vaccines,” said Dr. Ann Falsey, URMC’s co-director of the vaccine and treatment team.

She added that the study will ultimately jump-start the next generation of vaccines, but she said for now, the current game plan is the most effective.

“Your immune system has to be trained,” she said. “I think that initial series, followed by the booster is -- sort of -- how we get to where we need to be for that robust protection.”

Both doctors are hoping to have some early data to present to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by early June.

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