ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A Phase 2 clinical trial has been announced by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to evaluate COVID booster shots in adults. Researchers aim to better understand the ability of an expanded vaccine regimen to broaden the immune response beyond three shots.

The COVID-19 Variant Immunologic Landscape (COVAIL) trial combines the three-dose series with prototype and vaccines targeting variants. Researchers said they’re preparing for possible future COVID variants that could dodge protection provided by the current generation of available vaccines.

“We are looking beyond the omicron variant to determine the best strategy to protect against future variants,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci. “This trial will help us understand if we can use prototype and variant vaccines alone or together to shift immune responses to cover existing and emerging COVID-19 variants.”

They said the results of the trial will help the scientists making the vaccines adjust, similar to the process of updating seasonal flu vaccines to target circulating strains each year. Officials said an individual’s response to booster shots can be impacted either by their history of prior infection and vaccination, or a combination of both to what type of COVID-19 vaccines they received.

Studies conducted by researchers indicate that the omicron variant has a combination of mutations that makes it substantially different from prior SARS-CoV-2 variants. Officials said that if a new variant emerges that resembles the inherited SARS-CoV-2 strain—like the delta variant—an omicron-specific vaccine may not offer protection.

Predicting how new COVID variants emerge and affect the population, remains a challenge. That’s why the COVAIL trial will also document immune responses to prototypes like bivalent vaccines, which can target two SARS-CoV-2 variants simultaneously.