Covid-19 variants: state of play and impact on vaccination in the EU 

 
 
©Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP  

Existing Covid-19 vaccines should be effective against the new variants, experts told MEPs on 15 March.

As part of Parliament’s continued close monitoring of the EU’s vaccination strategy, members of the environment and public health committee heard fromrepresentatives from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization on the efficacy of vaccines against mutations of the Covid-19 virus.


This was the latest in a string of hearings and events during which key players in the Covid-19 crisis are keeping MEPs updated on their work.


Three main variants in the EU


Dr Bruno Ciancio, head of surveillance at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said there are currently three main variants of concern in the EU: the UK variant,  the South African variant and the Brazilian variant.


Given the current knowledge of the variants, he said the centre's models predict that the current measures and vaccination strategy rolled out by the EU will still be effective, but stressed the importance of countries keeping track of variants and their spread.

Main Covid-19 variants: number of cases in EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway 
  • British variant: 24,000 cases in 28 countries 
  • South African variant: 900 cases in 18 countries 
  • Brazilian variant: 200 cases in nine countrie 

Quicker approval of vaccines


Dr Marco Cavaleri, chair of the European Medicines Agency's Covid-19 emergency task force, said the agency is closely monitoring studies on the vaccines’ effectiveness on new Covid-19 variants.


He said the approval process for vaccines adjusted for new variants would be faster: “Manufacturers don’t have to re-submit an entire file from scratch, but it will be approved as a variation on the doses that led to the initial approval of the vaccine. This will save a lot of time and will make things more straightforward and flexible.”


The need for a globally coordinated response


Katherine O’Brien, vaccines and biologicals director at the World Health Organization, stressed the need for a globally- coordinated response to ensure the proper surveillance and evaluation of variants, measuring their potential impact on vaccines, modifications to vaccine composition and vaccine access and allocation.


She also highlighted the importance of messaging to maintain public confidence and the high risk of misinformation about the efficacy of existing vaccines.


An EU plan to foster partnerships between all stakeholders


The European Commission has reacted to the new coronavirus variants with its Hera incubator preparedness plan, which was presented to the environment and public health committee on Monday. The aim is to coordinate researchers, industry, regulators and public authorities to ensure the fast development, approval and sufficient production of vaccines for new variants.

The Hera incubator focuses on:  
  • Rapid detection and adaptation to virus variants 
  • Faster approval of vaccines 
  • Better production capacities