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EU drugs regulator: Jury still out on omicron and vaccines

January 11, 2022

The European Union's medicines regulator says more data is needed to understand whether the omicron variant can dodge vaccines. World Health Organization experts have recommended regular adjustments to existing vaccines.

Preliminary data shows the vaccine still protects against severe disease
Preliminary data shows the vaccine still protects against severe diseaseImage: Eibner-Pressefoto/EXPA/Feichter/imago images

The European Medicines Agency on Tuesday said more information was needed to understand the impact of the omicron variant on currently approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Preliminary data indicates that vaccines still provide effective protection against severe disease and hospitalization, the EMA said.

The agency added that more data is needed to understand the impact of the highly contagious variant.

The EMA's head of vaccines strategy, Marco Cavaleri told a media briefing that repeated vaccinations within short intervals would not represent a sustainable long-term strategy.

Virus moving closer to endemic state

Cavaleri said countries in the European Union were "moving towards" the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 becoming endemic — mainly due to the Omicron variant.

He added, however, that "it's not at that stage yet."

"Nobody knows exactly when the end of the tunnel will be reached, but we will get there and what is important and what we are seeing is that we are indeed moving towards the virus becoming more endemic, but I don't think we can say that we have reached that status yet," Cavaleri said.

Updates needed to keep vaccines effective, says WHO

A technical body of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that any future booster campaigns should take into account new variants of the virus.

The group of experts said the vaccination composition should be reworked against omicron and future variants of the coronavirus to ensure effective protection.

"The composition of current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by variants of concern, including omicron and future variants," the technical body, tasked with making recommendations to the WHO, said in a statement on Tuesday.

"COVID-19 vaccines need to ... elicit immune responses that are broad, strong, and long-lasting in order to reduce the need for successive booster doses," it added.

"A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable."

The WHO statement stopped short of advocating an omicron-specific vaccine at this stage.

It said more research was necessary, urging manufacturers to share data, and recommended the development of vaccines that stop transmission as well as severe disease and death.

rc/wmr (Reuters, LUSA, EFE)