The European Union’s drug regulator on Tuesday (11 January) expressed doubts about the need for a fourth booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine and said there is currently no data to support this approach as it seeks more data on the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
“While use of additional boosters can be part of contingency plans, repeated vaccinations within short intervals would not represent a sustainable long-term strategy,” the European Medicines Agency’s Head of Vaccines Strategy, Marco Cavaleri, told a media briefing.
The EMA official raised concerns that a strategy of giving boosters every four months hypothetically poses the risk of overloading people’s immune systems and leading to fatigue in the population.
Cavaleri also said more data on the impact of the new variant on vaccines and a better understanding of the evolution of the current wave were needed to decide whether an Omicron-specific vaccine was needed.
“It is important that there is a good discussion around the choice of the composition of the vaccine to make sure that we have a strategy that is not just reactive … and try to come up with an approach that will be suitable in order to prevent a future variant,” he said.
The EMA said it was currently in conversation with vaccine developers in case there is a need for an updated vaccine but added that any such change would need to be coordinated globally.
The World Health Organisation said earlier Tuesday that more than half of people in Europe were on track to catch the variant in the next two months.
The WHO also warned that repeated COVID boosters were not a viable strategy, comments the EU’s medicines regulator echoed.
“If we have a strategy in which we give boosters every four months, we will end up potentially having problems with immune response,” the EMA’s Cavaleri said.
“And secondly of course there is the risk of fatigue in the population with continuous administration of boosters.”
Countries should instead start thinking about spacing out boosters at longer intervals, and synchronising them with the start of the cold season in the way that flu vaccines are currently administered, Cavaleri said.
According to EMA, the spread of the Omicron variant is pushing COVID towards being an endemic disease that humanity can live with, although it remains a pandemic for now.
“Nobody knows exactly when we will be at the end of the tunnel but we will be there,” Cavaleri, said.
“With the increase of immunity in population – and with Omicron, there will be a lot of natural immunity taking place on top of vaccination – we will be fast moving towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity,” he added.