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16th Oct 2021

EU medicines agency: booster shots not urgent

  • Despite criticism, several EU countries have already announced booster programmes (Photo: The Focal Project)
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The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Thursday (2 September) that there is no urgent need to administer booster shots to the general population, stressing the priority now should be to vaccinate the one-third of Europeans who are not fully vaccinated.

Echoing a technical report issued earlier this week by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, EMA said that additional doses should be administered to people with severely-weakened immune systems or the elderly, particularly in care homes, as a precautionary measure.

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Several studies suggest that immunocompromised people, who may not have generated adequate immunisation from the two-doses regime, are more likely of getting very ill if they catch Covid-19.

While acknowledging that third doses may be necessary for the most vulnerable, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned countries against administering booster shots until more people get vaccinated in poorer countries.

"For now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully-vaccinated," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

"Around the world, many countries are still seeing a steep increase in cases and deaths," he added, pointing out that there are still "shocking inequities" in access to vaccines.

"More than five billion vaccines have now been administered globally, and almost 75 percent of them have been in just 10 countries," he said.

Despite this, several member states have made third doses available to people with immunosuppression, the elderly, health and care workers - in a bid to tackle the spread of the more-contagious Delta variant.

Hungary became this summer the first EU country to offer third vaccines to those who requested - four months after the individual's second shot.

On Wednesday, France began administrating third shots to people over 65-years old and those with underlying health conditions. About 18 million people are estimated to be eligible for the booster programme.

Germany will also start administrating third doses to patients with severely-weakened immune systems, the elderly and nursing home staff from this month.

Other EU countries that have announced booster programs include Austria, Belgium, Cyprus or Lithuania.

The non-EU UK also on Wednesday said that it will start administrating third doses for immunocompromised patients. It emphasised that this offer was separate from any potential booster programmes for the general population.

British public health authorities have stressed the difference between third shots and booster shots, arguing that a third dose is "an extra 'top-up' dose" for those who may not have adequate protection from the two-doses regime, while a booster shot extends the duration of protection.

For its part, the US has vaccinated over one million people with severely-compromised immune systems since mid-August, according to Reuters.

The WHO, meanwhile, has urged G7 countries to fulfil their pledges and share vaccines with the Covax facility, which helps supply vaccines in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Only 10 percent of nearly 900 million committed doses have been shipped so far, according to the UN agency.

Additionally, EU countries have been told to be ready to adapt their vaccination programmes in case a substantial decline in vaccine effectiveness is reported in any population group.

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