Wednesday, January 26, 2022

EU regulators skeptical of need for additional COVID booster shots

The European Union’s chief medical regulator on Tuesday expressed reservations about the efficacy of an additional booster shot, given the evolving nature of the Omicron strain of coronavirus and its potential to evade current vaccination efforts.

“Preliminary results from recently published studies showing that the effectiveness of vaccines against symptomatic disease is significantly reduced for Omicron and decreases over time,” said Marco Cavallari, Biological Health Threats at the European Medicines Agency. and Head of the Vaccine Strategy Division (EMA).

Israel has opened a fourth dose of the vaccine, or a second booster shot, to at-risk groups, such as the immunocompromised and the elderly, and medical workers. According to the Ministry of Health, so far more than 1.25 million people in Israel have received the fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

However, a health ministry advisory panel on Monday did not approve expanding access to the fourth dose to the wider population.

Israel, like the rest of the world, is witnessing a record number of COVID-19 cases, driven in large part by the rapid spread of Omicron and the threat to overwhelm schools, hospitals and the economy. The number of daily coronavirus cases topped 40,000 on Monday for the first time since the pandemic began, according to health ministry data.

Calavi also noted that the Omicron version has been able to bypass current iterations of the vaccine. “The study suggests that more vaccinated people will develop a successful infection and disease resulting from omicrons because of the immune evasion associated with this type,” he said.

The World Health Organization estimated on Tuesday that, in the next two months, more than half of people in Europe could catch omicron. Experts in Israel have estimated that 2-3 million Israelis could contract Omicron before the current wave of coronavirus cases ends.

Israelis receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Maccabi health care center in Rehovot on January 10, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Calavi cautioned that relying solely on the fourth dose to reduce the omicron wave may not be the best option. “While the use of additional boosters may be part of contingency plans, repeated vaccinations within short intervals will not represent a sustainable long-term strategy,” he said.

In addition, he said, Omicron could boost a “natural immunity” that, when combined with vaccination efforts, could help pull COVID-19 out of the pandemic stage.

“With increased immunity in the population – and with Omicron, there is a lot of natural immunity happening on top of vaccination – we are rapidly moving towards a scenario that will be close to endemic,” Calavi said.

Pfizer CEO Albert Boerla echoed the EMA’s recommendation during an interview with CNBC on Monday.

“I don’t know if a fourth booster is needed. That’s something that needs to be tested. And I know Israel has already started some of these experiments, and we’ll be doing some of these experiments as well so that To ensure that we use it, if required,” he said.

“I don’t think we should be doing anything that isn’t needed.”

Bourla said Pfizer is already manufacturing a vaccine targeting Omicron, which should be ready for public use in March.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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