EU health ministers seek common line over fourth COVID vaccine dose

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union health ministers will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

FILE PHOTO: Syringes filled with Oxford/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine are pictured at a vaccination centre in Bierset, Belgium March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The EU drugs regulator said earlier this week it would be reasonable to give a fourth dose to people with severely weakened immune systems, but more evidence was needed.

Ministers will discuss “the administration of the fourth dose,” said a press release issued by the French presidency of the EU, which organised the video-conference for health ministers at short notice.

EU members Hungary and Denmark have already decided to roll out a fourth dose of COVID vaccines. Copenhagen said it would do so for the most vulnerable, while the Hungarian government said everybody could get it after a consultation with a doctor.

The rollout of fourth doses began in Israel last month, making it the first country to administer the so-called second booster.

Wealthier nations decided to speed up the rollout of third doses amid a wave of new cases caused by the more contagious Omicron variant, but remain divided over a fourth one.

Many consider that more data is needed before making decisions on that.

The French presidency said the video conference was meant to find a common approach at an EU level on vaccination strategies.

The meeting will also discuss coordination of other COVID policies, including for possible new joint purchases of vaccines, as “vaccines adapted to variants are coming soon,” the French presidency said.

Vaccines adapted to Omicron could be ready as early as March, but the EU drugs regulator has said it is not yet clear whether they are needed.

Work is underway to develop multivalent vaccines that could protect against multiple variants, but it is not known when or if they could be available.

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