EU health ministers call for common approach to 2nd boosters for elderly

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European health ministers urged the bloc’s executive on Tuesday to back a fourth COVID-19 shot for people over the age of 60 to boost immunity in the absence of vaccines that specifically protect against the Omicron variant.

Pointing to data from Israel, minister Karl Lauterbach said a recommendation was “urgently necessary” to reduce the risk of death from an infection.

He raised the issue at a meeting of health ministers in Brussels on Tuesday and said most of them supported the idea of harmonising European vaccination strategies.

“I urge a common position of EU countries, agencies and the European Commission on the fourth dose,” said Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza.

Now the EU Commission will draw up a recommendation on the fourth vaccination within a very short time on the basis of scientific expertise,” Lauterbach told Reuters.

“Current data from Israel show: those over 60 years of age or suffering from pre-existing conditions should be vaccinated a fourth time,” he added.

EU regulator the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on March 17 that there was not yet enough data to support a recommendation on the need for a second booster shot in the general population, while acknowledging that some member states had started such a campaign targeting the elderly.

EMA added at the time that it was hoping for more data to guide a review later in the spring.

A study from Israel showed on Sunday that senior citizens who received a second booster of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination had a 78% lower mortality rate from the disease than those who had only one.

Earlier public health studies from Israeli had guided a decision by Germany in February to give a fourth shot to people aged 70 and older and to those at risk of severe disease.

Lauterbach said the booster strategy was urgent because he did not expect a vaccine adapted for new variants to become available before the autumn.

September is the month set for the launch of a shot that targets the dominant Omicron lineage, he said on Tuesday, but action was needed before then.

EMA’s leading vaccine expert said on March 17 he expected to receive trial data on COVID-19 vaccines tailored for the Omicron variant between April and the start of July.

Photo – EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH

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