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Europe won’t have an Omicron-adapted mRNA vaccine until at least autumn

April 27, 2022, 4:12 PM UTC

Europe does not expect to have a vaccine tailored to fight off the Omicron variant until autumn at the earliest, officials in Brussels said on Wednesday.

While China is busy combating its worst outbreak of COVID in months, Europe is relaxing its emergency measures and entering a new sustained phase, where it will try to flexibly manage the pandemic moving forward.

Key to this is the development of a new mRNA vaccine that is more effective at boosting the immune system’s response to variants of Omicron, the dominant strain accounting for virtually all sequenced infections across the globe. 

“An authorization for an adapted vaccine I don’t think is expected before the end of the summer,” said Stella Kyriakides, EU health and food safety commissioner told reporters during a briefing in Brussels. That is assuming companies continue to share information on a rolling basis and submit all the necessary data to the European Medicines Agency “in the coming months.”

Pfizer partner BioNTech, which developed the existing Comirnaty vaccine and delivered 2.6 billion doses last year, is currently working on an Omicron-adapted version. At the end of last month, it forecast the first data from clinical trials should be available in April.

“Must not lower our guard”

In December, the EU’s 27 member states authorized the commission, the bloc’s executive arm, to purchase over 180 million further doses from Pfizer and BioNTech, which split the distribution rights. While not quantified, this consignment would include a potentially large number of vaccines developed specifically to target the new, highly contagious Omicron strain.

Brussels will see to it that any such vaccine would be approved as quickly as possible, Kyriakides continued: “Once we have adapted vaccines, we will ensure that there is quick access and a sufficient quantity that we can make them available when necessary.”

According to the commissioner, an estimated 60% to 80% of the EU population have now had COVID at one point.

While officials are no longer witnessing the same pressure on public health systems, the combination of restrictions being lifted alongside waning immunity and the high probability of new variants emerging means the pandemic has not disappeared.

EU-wide booster campaigns are plateauing at about 64% of the adult population, and there are still 90 million Europeans unvaccinated. Moreover, potentially a tenth of those who are infected with the virus can still suffer effects months afterward due to long COVID.

“Infections are still in the millions worldwide,” she said. “My message today to member states is a very clear one: We must not lower our guard.”

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