Covid-19: ‘No clear evidence’ on second boosters for under 60s - European health agencies

EMA is working towards possible approval of Omicron-adapted vaccines in September

There is “no clear evidence” to support giving a second booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to people below 60 years of age or health workers who are not at higher risk of severe disease, two European health agencies have said.

However people aged over 60 should be given a second booster, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended amid a new wave of the disease.

“It is critical that public health authorities now consider people between 60 and 79 as well as vulnerable people of any age for a second booster,” the agencies said in a statement on Monday.

Currently only those aged over 65 or those with a weak immune system are eligible for a vaccine in Ireland.

READ MORE

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), which advises the Government, is currently giving consideration to extending the second booster programme to those under 65.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the immunisation programme in Ireland is based on the advice of NIAC, which will consider the recommendation and its implementation in terms of the Irish vaccination programme.

“Any recommendations made by the NIAC on foot of its deliberations will then be considered by the Acting CMO and Minister prior to being communicated to the HSE for implementation,” the spokeswoman added.

Christine Loscher, professor of immunology at Dublin City University, said now was “not the right time” to give booster doses to the general population.

“At the moment we need to be boosting people over 60 and people in vulnerable categories,” she said.

Data showed that three quarters of patients in hospital with Covid-19 are aged over 65 and only around half had received the second booster dose, she said. The focus for now should be on encouraging this age group to get vaccinated.

“Giving another booster to the general population now isn’t necessary... our background immunity is good from previous vaccinations. Boosting the entire population now will put us in a trickier position for vaccines in the autumn and winter,” Prof Loscher said, adding that a wider approach could be “more appropriate” when an Omicron-specific vaccine becomes available down the line”.

In April the European agencies had only recommended a second booster for those aged over 80 but had said this may need to be extended if there was a resurgence of infections.

“As a new wave is currently under way in Europe, with increasing rates of hospital and intensive care unit admissions, it is critical that public health authorities now consider people between 60 and 79 as well as vulnerable people of any age for a second booster,” the agencies said on Monday.

These doses could be administered at least four months after the previous one, with a focus on people who have received a previous booster more than six months ago, it added.

However, the agencies said there was no evidence to support the provision of second boosters to the broader population, healthcare workers or those working in long-term care homes, except in cases in which an individual is at high risk.

Residents at long-term care homes are likely to be at risk of severe disease and should be considered for boosters in line with national recommendations, the statement said.

The ECDC and EMA have called on public health authorities across the EU to plan for additional boosters during the autumn and winter seasons for people with highest risk of severe disease, possibly combining Covid-19 vaccinations with those for influenza.

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “With cases and hospitalisations rising again as we enter the summer period, I urge everybody to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible. This is how we protect ourselves, our loved ones and our vulnerable populations.”

Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the ECDC, said the increased cases and hospitalisations is mainly being driven by the BA.5 sublineage of Omicron.

“This signals the start of a new, widespread Covid-19 wave across the European Union. There are still too many individuals at risk of severe Covid-19 infection whom we need to protect as soon as possible,” Dr Ammon said.

“We expect that adults 60 years and older and medically vulnerable populations will need a second booster dose. These are the groups most at risk of severe disease and giving a second booster to those groups now will avert a significant number of hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19.”

The advice comes amid work to adapt the current vaccines to specifically target the Omicron variants of concern.

Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA, said the agency is working towards possible approvals of adapted vaccines in September, with the human medicines committee currently reviewing data for two adapted vaccines.

Meanwhile, the number of patients with the virus in Irish hospitals topped 1,000 on Monday morning, according to official figures.

A total of 1,055 Covid patients were in hospitals on Monday, the first time the number has exceeded 1,000 since April 12th. However, hospital figures are normally artificially higher on Mondays due to delayed discharges over the weekend.

The number of patients in intensive care has remained relatively stable despite the recent surge infections, though there can be a lag between a rise in hospital admissions and a corresponding increase in seriously ill patients.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times