EU regulator gives green light to omicron booster vaccines

·2-min read
AP - Peter Dejong

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has backed two separate Covid-19 booster vaccines updated to target the omicron variant of Covid-19 and developed by drugmakers Moderna and BioNTech-Pfizer.

In a statement on Thursday, the EU drug regulator said the two messenger RNA boosters offered protection both against the original version of Covid-19 and the omicron subvariant BA.1, which has since been overtaken globally by later omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

Nearly 80 percent of coronavirus cases worldwide are now being caused by omicron BA.5, according to the World Health Organization.

The decision comes a day after the US drug regulator cleared updated versions of Covid-19 vaccines incorporating protection against the later subvariants, after telling pharmaceuticals in June that any updated boosters must target the most recent versions of omicron.

The EMA said adapted vaccines are expected “to help maintain optimal protection against Covid-19 as the virus evolves".

The regulator is also currently reviewing an updated version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that aims to protect against the later BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants.

Scientists hope the new boosters will trigger a strong response from the immune system to prevent not just serious illness but perhaps milder infections also – much like the original vaccines did earlier in the pandemic, before super-contagious mutants emerged.

Risk of winter infection waves

European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides welcomed the decision as "important to protect Europeans against the likely risk of autumn and winter waves of infections."

"We need to be ready to face another winter with Covid-19," she added.

It’s unclear how well the updated boosters will work since experts are still gathering data.

But there’s evidence that they are safe, so waiting for more study on their effectiveness would risk another mutation appearing before people are immunised.

Last month, British authorities cleared an updated version of the Moderna booster that included protection against omicron subvariant BA.1, saying the shots would be offered to people 50 and over beginning in September.

France ends Covid state of emergency, dissolves scientific council

In Germany, health minister Karl Lauterbach said that inoculations with the new vaccines could start next week and that “now is the optimal time to close vaccination gaps for the fall".

The UK was the first country to approve a so-called bivalent vaccine, the Moderna shot, in August, followed then by Switzerland and Australia.

France, meanwhile, is now waiting for the final approval from the country's National Health Authority (HAS) before the booster vaccines can be distributed among pharmacies, hospitals, doctors and other medical facilities.

(with wires)