The UK has become the first country in the world to approve a new dual-strain vaccine that targets both the original covid-19 virus and the omicron variant.

Manufactured by Moderna, who has said it can start to provide doses in the coming weeks, the new vaccine is expected to be rolled out this autumn ahead of the winter flu season. It is hoped the vaccine will also provide greater protection against other variants yet to be seen.

Research showed the new vaccine, known as a bivalent because it specifically targets two different strains at the same time, was approved for use in adults by the UK’s medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

Chief executive of the MHRA, Dr June 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.”

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO, added: “This represents the first authorisation of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine. This bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”

Results showed an increase of antibodies able to stick to and disable the first of the omicron variants, BA.1, whilst improved protection was also recorded against later variants, BA.4 and BA.5.

Since it first appeared in China in 2019, the Covid-19 virus has mutated several times resulting in a number of different, and virulent, strains that have placed massive pressure on healthcare regimes around the world.