In a change of direction, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advised on Wednesday, adults and mainly those over 40 to consider getting a third dose (booster) of a Covid-19 vaccine.
The advice is a turn-around to guidance issued in fall jointly with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which said there was no urgent need for booster shots among the fully vaccinated and only for those with weakened immune systems.
“Booster doses should be considered for all adult individuals prioritizing persons above 40 years of age,” said ECDC Director Andrea Ammon in video recording on Wednesday.
According to ECDC data, “the potential burden of disease in the EU/EEA from the Delta variant will be very high in December and January, unless public health measures are applied now in combination with continued efforts to increase vaccine uptake in the total population”.
Ammon went on to add that booster shots should be administered at least six months after completing the primary vaccine schedule.
The announcement comes after a debate this week by EU governments on the duration of vaccine effectiveness and whether there was evidence that a third dose would be necessary to ensure safe free travel in the Union amid a fourth wave of the deadly virus.
“There are still too many individuals at risk of severe Covid-19 infection whom we need to protect as soon as possible. We need to urgently focus on closing this immunity gap, offer booster doses to all adults, and reintroduce non-pharmaceutical measures,” she said on the latest update of the Rapid Risk Assessment on Covid-19.
“Available evidence emerging from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and severe disease following a booster dose in all age groups in the short term,” said the ECDC in a report published on Wednesday.
EU member states are not required to implement ECDC guidance but should take it into consideration when making health policy decisions.
“New ECDC risk assessment is clear: we must step up vaccination to control the pandemic. We want to convince people to get vaccinated. Boosters should be available for adults, with priority for people over 40 and vulnerable people. And let’s keep distance and masks,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen via her twitter account on Wednesday.
Ammon went on to advise EU governments with low vaccination rates to accelerate vaccination rollouts.
The European Commission will be taking updated ECDC advice and feedback into consideration ahead of its proposal on free movement and use of EU Digital COVID Certificates, expected in the coming days.
Greek PM Wants Boosters for the 60+
Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was in favor of an additional dose of the vaccine which should be considered as a condition for free travel across the EU for citizens over 60 years of age.
“I believe that mandating the third dose as part of the certification of vaccination for citizens over 60 would be an important step in our fight against the pandemic,” he said.
The Greek PM sent his proposal to von der Leyen in a letter, adding that the measure would have to include EU Digital COVID Certificate coverage and duration.
“Such a policy initiative will help our health systems cope more efficiently with a heavy winter of hospitalizations but also to sustain control over the virus and pandemic without moving to new horizontal restrictions that would put in jeopardy the recovery of our economies and the freedom of movement,” said Mitsotakis.
The Greek government reiterated on Wednesday that there would be no national lockdown measures.