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14th May 2022

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The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) say repeat booster doses every four months could lead to a weakened immune response in vaccinated people and may not be effective for new variants.

Instead, the EMA suggests giving more time between boosters and said the aim should be to time out boosters for the onset of the cold and flu season in each hemisphere.

In a news release, the EMA pointed to current studies showing “a lower risk of being hospitalized after infection with Omicron,” and said the risk is “currently estimated to be between a third and half of the risk with the Delta variant.”

The release also indicates people are better protected from severe disease and hospitalization with one booster compared to those who have only had their initial two-dose course.

The comments come amid many countries looking to add a second booster to the COVID-19 regimen in the wake of the furious spread of the Omicron variant.

The UK says the first boosters are providing a good level of protection and will consider the second booster as things evolve, reported by Bloomberg.

Boosters “can be done once, or maybe twice, but it’s not something that we can think should be repeated constantly,” Marco Cavaleri, the EMA head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, said at a press briefing.

“We need to think about how we can transition from the current pandemic setting to a more endemic setting.”

Scientists interviewed by the New York Times said,” too many shots might cause a sort of immune system fatigue, compromising the body’s ability to fight the coronavirus.”

Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE) is the term used to describe when antibodies are unable to neutralize a virus making the person more susceptible to infection.

ADE was a concern even before the COVID-19 vaccines were approved for use and recent data show it could now be responsible for an uptick in infections in the vaccinated population.

The WHO also indicated in a statement, the use of the original COVID-19 vaccine as repeated booster doses is “unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable.”

“It would be important for vaccine manufacturers to take steps in the short-term for the development and testing of vaccines with predominant circulating variants,” said the statement adding manufacturers should consider, “a more sustainable long-term option that would effectively be variant-proof.”

The statement also says COVID-19 vaccines need to, “be more effective in protection against infection thus lowering community transmission,” and should, “elicit immune responses that are broad, strong and long-lasting in order to reduce the need for successive booster doses.”

“Until such vaccines are available, and as the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, the composition of current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs (variants of concern), including Omicron and future variants.”

The WHO said according to preliminary data, the vaccine effectiveness has been reduced against “symptomatic disease caused by the Omicron variant,” but says protection from severe disease is “more likely preserved.”

“However, more data on vaccine effectiveness, particularly against hospitalization, severe disease, and death are needed, including for each vaccine platform and for various vaccine dosing and product regimens.”

Some of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers have confirmed they are working on producing new vaccines that will more effectively target the new variants. The European Union said April is the soonest it could approve a new vaccine as the process typically takes three to four months.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard

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