EU experts back second COVID-19 booster for vulnerable groups
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have recommended second booster doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for people aged 60 to 79 years old, and for those with medical conditions putting them at high risk of severe disease.
In April, the agencies backed second booster vaccines for people aged over 80 years of age. In a joint statement, the regulator and scientific advisory agency noted that an ongoing wave of COVID-19 infections is putting pressure on hospital systems across Europe.
Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, urged national governments to respond swiftly to the advice. ‘Our COVID-19 vaccines work and offer good levels of protection against severe illness and hospitalisation,’ she said. ‘With cases and hospitalisations rising again as we enter the summer period, I urge everybody to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible. There is no time to lose.’
This was echoed by Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of the ECDC. She said the omicron BA5 variant was spreading quickly in all European countries. ‘This signals the start of a new, widespread COVID-19 wave across the European Union. There are still too many individuals at risk of severe COVID-19 infection whom we need to protect as soon as possible,’ she said. ‘We need to remind people of the importance of vaccination from the very first shot to the second booster. We have to start today.’
Dr Ammon acknowledged the significant effort public health authorities and societies at large have made to improve vaccine uptake but called for a renewed effort to reduce the impact of the latest surge in case numbers.
The authorities said that there is currently not enough evidence to support giving second booster doses to people below 60 years of age who are not at higher risk of severe disease. The EMA and ECDC said authorities should plan for additional boosters during the autumn and winter seasons, possibly combing COVID-19 vaccinations with those for influenza.
With flu season impacting hospitals in the southern hemisphere at the moment, European health systems are bracing themselves for a winter period in which the twin challenges of flu and COVID-19 may present simultaneously.
By the autumn, new vaccines adapted to the omicron variant may be available. ‘We are working towards possible approvals of adapted vaccines in September,’ said EMA’s Executive Director, Emer Cooke, noting that ‘our human medicines committee is currently reviewing data for two adapted vaccines.’