COVID-19: new variants could emerge this winter, warns EMA

COVID-19: New variants could emerge this winter, EMA warns


New variants of the coronavirus could appear this winter, but existing vaccines should protect people against severe forms of the disease, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday.

 • Read also: The vaccine adapted to Moderna's Omicron has been approved

The European regulator held a regular press conference on the COVID-19 situation as the European Union prepares to launch a recall campaign ahead of a feared wave of new cases by the end of the year.

The booster campaign will be with suitable vaccines – approved by the EMA on Thursday – targeting the now-dominant Omicron variant, and the original vaccines developed to fight the first strain of the virus that first appeared in China in 2019, said the Amsterdam-based EMA.

But people “shouldn't wait for a specific vaccine,” said EMA's head of vaccine strategy, Marco Cavaleri.

“There could be a whole new variant emerging that we are not able to predict today,” he added.

The EMA on Thursday approved adapted vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna targeting the Omicron BA.1 subvariant in addition to the original strain.

A new Pfizer vaccine targeting infectious BA lineages. 4 and BA.5 of the Omicron variant, which have emerged in recent months as the dominant strains in the world, should be authorized in mid-September. A similar vaccine from Moderna is also in the works.

These Omicron-tailored vaccines will largely be reserved for vulnerable people such as the elderly, pregnant women and healthcare workers, stressed M. Cavaleri.

Most people will receive the original vaccines, “still able to protect against the severe form of COVID-19 and death”, even if they are less effective in preventing contamination , he explained.

In addition, it is “not excluded” that new variants will emerge this winter that are closer to the previous sub-variants of Omicron, currently largely overtaken by the lineages BA.4 and 5.