The European Union could approve a Covid-19 shot against the new omicron variant within three to four months, the bloc’s medical agency said Tuesday.
Pharmaceutical firms are studying whether their Covid vaccines remain effective against the omicron variant, which emerged in southern Africa a week ago. The European Medicines Agency said Tuesday that if the shots end up needing to be revised, the agency would be ready to approve them within a couple of months.
“We need to prepare in case there’s a need to change the current vaccines and that’s work that the companies will do,” Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels.
“We could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months,” she said.
The EMA has previously been criticized for taking longer than other drug regulators to approve coronavirus vaccines.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Tuesday there are now 44 cases of the new variant across 10 countries in the region.
Speaking to European lawmakers, Cooke stressed that the current shots would still provide protection and appealed to people to get vaccinated.
“Even if the new variant becomes more widespread, the vaccines we have will continue to provide protection,” she said.
The European Union has seen a mixed uptake of coronavirus vaccines, with countries such as Ireland and Portugal having inoculation rates at around 90% while many others lag behind.
Amid the uncertainty posed by the new variant, EU officials have not held back on appealing to citizens to get vaccinated.
“Already faced with a challenging winter due to the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, a very high immunity gap and the relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions and personal behaviors, we may now experience further or additional pressures because of the appearance of the Omicron variant,” European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said in a letter, seen by CNBC, to European ministers on Monday.
She added: “I therefore write to encourage you and your fellow Health Ministers to do the utmost to continue increasing the vaccination rate across all eligible groups. The more we vaccinate, the higher the benefits of vaccination will be.”
European nations were already dealing with surging infections over the last couple of weeks, before the new variant was announced. Germany, Belgium, Austria and the Czech Republic are among a group of nations that stepped up social restrictions to contain the spread. The latter two nations focused on limiting activity for those who have not been vaccinated.
Greece has become the latest country to announce compulsory vaccination. From Jan. 16, those aged 60 and above who have not been vaccinated will face a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114), according to Reuters.