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COVID-19 variants: State of play and impact on vaccination in the EU

EU Reporter Correspondent

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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 countries 
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 co-ordinated 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 

Check out this timeline and find out how the EU is tackling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Find out more 

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Therapeutics Strategy - First rolling review of a new COVID-19 medicine

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Medicines Agency has today (7 May) started the rolling review of sotrovimab (VIR-7831), a monoclonal antibody developed for the treatment of COVID-19. The review follows hot on the heels of the EU COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy presented yesterday and is a first step towards the Strategy's target of starting seven rolling reviews of COVID-19 therapeutics in 2021. The rolling review launched by EMA will assess sotrovimab's effectiveness in preventing hospitalization and death; safety and quality. A rolling review is quicker than a regular evaluation as data is reviewed as it comes in. Should the European Medicines Agency recommend authorising the treatment at the end of its review, the European Commission will move swiftly to authorize it. 

The EU Therapeutics Strategy supports the development and availability of much needed COVID-19 therapeutics and covers the lifecycle of medicines: from research, development and manufacturing to procurement and deployment. It is part of the strong European Health Union, in which all EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises and ensure the availability of affordable and innovative medical supplies – including the therapeutics needed to treat COVID-19. More details on the EU Therapeutics Strategy are available in a press release and factsheet.

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Kazakhstan to deliver humanitarian assistance to India

Astana Times

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Kazakhstan will provide humanitarian assistance to India due to the sharp deterioration of the epidemiological situation in this country, reported the Akorda Press, writes Zhanna Shayakhmetova.

President Tokayev instructed the government to provide humanitarian aid to India during the meeting with Prime Minister Askar Mamin on 7 May.

This was announced at the meeting of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Prime Minister Askar Mamin on May 7.

President Tokayev instructed the government to dispatch 6 million medical masks, 400,000 respirators, 50,000 anti-plague suits, and 105 portable artificial lung ventilation devices made in Kazakhstan.

India observed a record daily rise in coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million, according to Reuters.

India is now the second most corona-affected country with the overall cases standing at 21.49 million. 

On May 4, Tokayev delivered a message to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express “deep solidarity with the Indian nation over the devastating COVID-19 surge in their country.”

The President noted that Kazakhstan is ready “to unite efforts with our Indian friends to contain the spread of the pandemic and provide every possible assistance in the spirit of enduring friendship and mutual support between our states.”

Earlier, it was reported that Kazakhstan will provide humanitarian aid that consists of 10,000 tons of flour to Kyrgyzstan. 

“Guided by the principles of friendship, alliance and strategic partnership with Kyrgyzstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to provide humanitarian assistance to the fraternal Kyrgyz people on behalf of the Kazakh people,”  President’s spokesperson Berik Uali wrote  on his Facebook on May 6. 

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India: EU mobilizes an initial €2.2 million in emergency funding for the vulnerable during COVID-19

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission has announced that it will allocate an initial €2.2 million in emergency funding to respond to the drastic surge in COVID-19 cases in India. The funding will support the World Health Organization (WHO) for a 6-month case management of COVID-19 patients, as well as strengthening laboratory capacity for COVID-19 testing. Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: “We are providing additional EU support towards the fight against COVID-19 in India. This comes on top of the generous and swift assistance from EU member states that stepped up as part of Team Europe to offer critical supplies of oxygen, ventilators and medicines over the last few days. We stand ready to work with the WHO and other partners on the ground to jointly fight this battle at this difficult time – we are stronger together.”

Member states have already mobilized supplies of urgently needed oxygen, ventilators and medicines from Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden to India over the last week via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

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