The European Medicines Agency, the main drug agency in the European Union, said Monday that healthy adults could be given a booster of the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at least six months after the second dose.
The data showed that antibody levels rose in people aged 18 to 55 with normal immune systems who received a third dose of the vaccine. It is still checking the booster of the Moderna vaccine.
The agency also said people with “severely weakened” immune systems could receive an extra dose of the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine just 28 days after a second dose. It is expected that an additional shot would “increase protection at least in some patients,” the agency said.
The recommendation is based on studies showing that an additional dose of these vaccines could increase the ability to produce antibodies in organ transplant recipients.
In the European Union, vaccination campaigns are a prerogative of national governments, and each of the 27 member states can decide whether to booster all of their adult residents. Some EU countries like France, Germany and Belgium started giving extra doses to the elderly and people with compromised immune systems last month, while the Czech Republic and Hungary opened this option to all adults.
Although the European Union has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with over 73 percent of fully vaccinated adults, there is still no approved coronavirus vaccine for children. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control last week warned that if governments relax Covid-19 restrictions, the average vaccination rate across the bloc will not be enough to stop the spread of the virus.
The agency said it would carefully monitor “very rare” side effects of a booster vaccination, such as inflammatory heart disease, but the risk is unknown at the moment.
The decisions of wealthier nations to give booster shots while the rest of the world remains largely unvaccinated have alarmed health experts. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, has called for a moratorium on coronavirus vaccine refreshments for people who are not immunocompromised until at least the end of the year.