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COVID-19 VACCINES

EU medicines agency approves Covid-19 booster vaccine for all adults

The European Medicines Agency has given its approval for a third Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for all adults in order to increase immunity levels, paving the way for booster jabs to be rolled out across the EU.

A nurse administer a booster shot of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine
A nurse administer a booster shot of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. Photo by JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The EMA announced on Monday that its human medicines committee (CHMP) has concluded that an extra dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty (BioNTech/Pfizer) may be given to all over-18s. It is studying data to see whether a third Moderna jab could also be administered as a booster vaccine.

The extra jab could be given a least six months after the individual received their second dose of the vaccine.

“The CHMP has evaluated data for Comirnaty showing a rise in antibody levels when a booster dose is given approximately 6 months after the second dose in people from 18 to 55 years old,” read the EMA statement.

“On the basis of this data, the Committee concluded that booster doses may be considered at least 6 months after the second dose for people aged 18 years and older.”

It also concluded that an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be given to people with severely weakened immune systems, at least 28 days after their second dose.

Each country in the EU and has implemented its own policy towards Covid-19 vaccines and the goes for booster shots. Certain countries have already began booster campaigns for elderly residents with weakened immune systems.

“At national level, public health bodies may issue official recommendations on the use of booster doses, taking into account emerging effectiveness data and the limited safety data,” the EMA said.

“The implementation of vaccination campaigns in the EU remains the prerogative of the national immunisation technical advisory groups (NITAGs) guiding the vaccination campaigns in each EU Member State.

“These bodies are best placed to take into account the local conditions, including the spread of the virus (especially any variants of concern), the availability of vaccines and the capacities of national health systems.”

The EMA said there was no know side effects following a booster jab.

“The risk of inflammatory heart conditions or other very rare side effects after a booster is not known and is being carefully monitored. As for all medicines, EMA will continue to look at all data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” the regulator added.

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COVID-19 ALERT

EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

The much-debated policy sparked controversy since before it was approved in February, meaning that May could be a definitive month in the country.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

Austria’s Federal Government has a ticking time bomb on its hands: an ordinance that suspended its vaccine mandate law is set to expire by the end of May, which means that the controversial mandatory vaccination would be again in place as early as June 1st.

In order to keep that from happening, Austria’s Health Ministry needs to extend the current regulation or create a new one.

If it doesn’t, the Covid-19 mandatory vaccination law would automatically be back in June.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?

Since, by June, the vaccine mandate stated that non-vaccinated would start getting fines, the resumption of the law would mean that, from next month, those who are not vaccinated could be fined in routine checks, such as traffic checks.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage of it was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining about vaccines and about the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if they were not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.

The law was suspended for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the relatively high vaccination coverage the country had already received, along with the lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

To create a new regulation or extend the existing one stopping people from being fined, Rauch must await the report of the vaccination commission, which should be ready in May, according to the Ministry.

The coronavirus commission will assess whether the Vaccination Act is suitable and useful from a medical and legal point of view. A previous report said there were arguments for and against mandatory vaccination for those who were completely unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

Der Standard reports there is little political support for compulsory vaccination and says there are still technical problems regarding automated fines. However, according to the Ministry of Health, the infrastructure should be completed in June.

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