The jabs target both the original virus and the BA.1 subvariant of Omicron

EU oversight body approves first Omicron injections

The injections target both the original virus and the BA.1 subvariant Omicron – Copyright THE VITTIMS OF COMMUNISME MEMORIAL FOUNDATION/AFP/File Handout

Danny Kemp

The EU medicines regulator on Thursday approved Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines tailored for the Omicron variant, paving the way for a booster campaign this winter.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the so-called “bivalent” shots target both the parent virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019, and the BA.1 Omicron sub-variant.

Vaccines are not being updated for the newer and more contagious BA.4 and BA.5 types that have become dominant worldwide, and a decision on vaccination to counter these variants is expected within weeks.

The Amsterdam-based EMA said the two shots supported on Thursday for people aged 12 and over were “the first adapted Covid-19 booster vaccines recommended for approval in the EU.”

“These vaccines are adapted versions of the original Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) and Spikevax (Moderna) vaccines to target the Omicron BA.1 subvariant in addition to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain,” the report said.

European countries have been keen to hurry up with the new generation of injections so they can launch booster campaigns ahead of a dangerous Covid surge in the second half of this year.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides called the decision “important to protect Europeans from the likely risk of autumn and winter waves of infections.”

“We must be prepared to face another winter with Covid-19,” she said in a statement.

The EMA said research has shown the new shots can “produce strong immune responses” against Covid.

It stated that “in particular, they were more effective in eliciting an immune response against the BA.1 subvariant than the parent vaccines.”

– New strains –

The EU’s Kyriakides said she expects the EMA to make a decision on vaccines adapted for the currently dominant BA.4 and 5 strains “in the coming weeks.”

Pfizer recently applied for authorization of a vaccine adapted against two new types.

The United States authorized its first Omicron vaccines on Wednesday, approving Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the BA.4 and BA.5 strains.

The UK approved the Moderna vaccine for type BA.1 in mid-August.

The 27 EU countries are currently still using the same coronavirus vaccines that were approved almost two years ago for use against the original strain.

While they offer some protection against the newer variants, the race continues to produce shots that also target the milder but more contagious strains of Omicron.

While previous “options of concern” such as Alpha and Delta eventually disappeared, Omicron and its sub-lineages dominated throughout 2022.

In particular, types BA.4 and BA.5 have helped spark a wave of new cases in Europe and the United States in recent months.

Therefore, health authorities are racing to get updated vaccines as soon as possible ahead of a dangerous new wave of illness later this year.

All variants of Omicron tend to have a milder course of the disease, as they settle less in the lungs and more in the upper nasal passages, causing symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and loss of smell.

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