All people over 60, all those with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions, and pregnant women should get a new vaccination against Covid-19 this autumn, European Union health authorities have recommended.
There are indications that Covid-19 is increasing across Europe after a summer of increased travel and large gatherings, and the winter is expected to see a surge in influenza and the RSV respiratory virus, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) warned in a joint announcement.
Modelling by the ECDC has found that a successful vaccination campaign aimed at people aged 60 and above would reduce Covid-19 related hospitalisations this winter by 21-32 per cent, said the agency’s director Dr Andrea Ammon.
The circulation of Covid-19 and influenza together “will put vulnerable people at increased risk of severe illness and death and will put increased pressure on hospitals and healthcare workers,” Dr Ammon said.
“We have to act now to minimise the burden on healthcare systems caused by the co-circulation of these respiratory viruses.”
The agency also recommended that the vaccination of healthcare workers should be considered.
Two newly updated vaccines that have been approved by the EMA are the “best match” for the variants of Covid-19 that are circulating, EMA chief Emer Cooke told the briefing.
The updated Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are targeted towards the dominant strains of the Omicron variant and were approved by EU authorities earlier this month.
They are also effective against the highly-transmissible variant Eris, said Ms Cooke. Also known as EG.5, the strain has been detected in hospitals and care homes in Ireland and was classified as a variant of concern by the ECDC last month.
Older versions of the Covid-19 vaccines nevertheless remain effective, Ms Cooke said, suggesting national authorities could choose the best course of action “taking into account the epidemiological situation and the vaccines that are available”.
“If you’re aged 60 and above, if you have a weakened immune system and underlying health conditions, or if you are pregnant, you should get vaccinated with Covid-19 vaccine,” Ms Cooke told the briefing.
“We call on all people in the EU who belong to risk categories and are vulnerable to please do take the vaccines that the public-health authorities in the EU make available to you. The vaccine continues to be the most effective way to protect you from severe disease, hospitalisation and death,” Ms Cooke said.
There were also other “simple, but yet effective” steps people could take to keep respiratory viruses at bay, Dr Ammon said, including wearing well-fitted masks, particularly in healthcare settings or ill-ventilated areas, cleaning hands regularly and staying home when experiencing respiratory symptoms.
There is no evidence to suggest the new variants of Covid-19 such as Eris cause more severe illness, but they may be causing an increase in infections, said the ECDC.
Of the 16 European countries that continue to report a Covid-19 case count to the ECDC, 12 have reported increased infections among people aged over 65.
While the number of deaths seen from Covid-19 remains low compared with the worst years of the pandemic, four of the 12 European countries that report such deaths by age group have recently reported small increases in deaths from Covid-19 among the over-65s, the ECDC said.