EU Could Approve Vaccine Against New Covid Variant In 3 To 4 Months
Brussels: The EU drug regulator said on Tuesday it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus within three to four months if needed, but that existing shots would continue to provide protection.
Speaking to the European Parliament, European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director Emer Cooke said it was not known if drugmakers would need to tweak their vaccines to protect against Omicron, but the EMA was preparing for that possibility.
“Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months,” she said.
“Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing (…) will then have to show that the production system works, they will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice.”
The CEO of drugmaker Moderna had set off fresh alarm bells in financial markets on Tuesday by warning that existing vaccines were unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa, as they have been against the Delta version.
Forty-two cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant have been confirmed in 10 European Union countries, the head of the EU’s public health agency said on Tuesday.
But Cooke sought to reaffirm repeated calls for people to get vaccinated with the approved products currently available.
“Even if the new variant becomes more widespread, the vaccines we have will continue to provide protection,” Cooke said.
Echoing previous remarks by vaccine maker BioNTech, Cooke said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next two weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.
In February, the EMA issued new guidance to speed up the approval process for drugmakers that modify their COVID-19 vaccines to protect against new variants.
Mask mandates to tackle Omicron variant come into force in UK
London: New mask mandates and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant came into force in England on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson eyes an expanded booster programme to help increase protection against COVID-19.
From Tuesday morning, face masks are compulsory on transport and in shops, banks and hair salons.
All international travellers must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after they arrive, and self-isolate until they get their result. That is in addition to restrictions on arrivals from 10 southern African countries, who have to enter hotel quarantine.
Britain has reported 11 cases of the Omicron variant so far, and while the government says this number will rise, it says it is important to slow its spread until more is known about the variant’s tranmissibility and impact on vaccines.
“The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new variant,” Johnson said in a statement.
“Not only will today’s steps help us slow down the variant’s spread, but they will help us protect each other and the gains we have all worked so hard for.”
Johnson has said the measures will be reviewed after three weeks, but added that the country’s vaccine rollout leaves it in a better situation than this time last year, when restrictions were introduced shortly before Christmas.
On Monday vaccine advisers gave the go ahead to a booster programme for all adults, and health minister Sajid Javid said there would be more details on how it would be implemented this week.
Booster shots are expected to help protect against severe disease even if Omicron is able to reduce vaccine efficacy.
“Based on everything we know, our vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence,” Johnson said.