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EU backs second COVID booster for over-60s

European Union health agencies on Monday recommended a second COVID-19 booster for everyone over 60, as well as medically vulnerable people, amid a new rise in infections and hospitalisations across Europe.

EU health agencies have since April recommended a second booster only for those older than 80 and the most vulnerable.

The new recommendation is expected to facilitate national decisions to speed up vaccination campaigns, which have been slowing to nearly a halt in recent months.

“We are currently seeing increasing COVID-19 case notification rates and an increasing trend in hospital and ICU admissions and occupancy in several countries mainly driven by the BA 5 sublineage of (the) Omicron (coronavirus variant),” said Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in a statement.

“This signals the start of a new, widespread COVID-19 wave across the European Union,” she said, adding that giving the over 60s and medically vulnerable a second booster now would avert a significant number of hospitalisations and deaths.

Vaccine makers, such as Moderna Inc and partners Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, have been testing versions of their COVID vaccines modified to combat the BA.1 Omicron variant.

Although they have said those vaccines generated a good immune response against BA.1 and the more recently circulating variants, they did see a lower response against BA.4 and BA.5.

Back in January Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said commenting on the threat of new variants: “We know that the two doses of a vaccine offer very limited protection, if any. The three doses with a booster, they offer reasonable protection against hospitalisation and deaths.”

His remark had some commentators call into question the efficacy of the vaccine, which had previously been heralded as offering full protection.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is currently reviewing two variant-adapted vaccines, expects to have the first next-generation vaccines approved by September.

“In the meantime, it is important to consider using currently authorised vaccines as second boosters in people who are most vulnerable,” said EMA executive director Emir Cooke.

There is no clear evidence to support giving a second booster dose to people below 60 years of age who are not at higher risk of severe disease, the ECDC added on Monday.

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