European Union health agencies recommended on Monday that people ages 60 and older receive a second booster shot of a coronavirus vaccine, as fears rise over mounting cases and hospitalizations across the continent.
The recommendation came days after the World Health Organization said that Europe was at the center of a new virus wave. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, which had warned last week that virus infections, hospital admissions and deaths were all expected to rise across Europe, said on Monday that increasing infections among older age groups were already leading to higher rates of severe disease.
Those trends in several countries are “mainly driven by the BA.5 sublineage of Omicron,” said Dr. Andrea Ammon, the E.C.D.C.’s director.
“This signals the start of a new, widespread Covid-19 wave across the European Union,” Dr. Ammon said, adding that giving booster shots to older people and other at-risk groups was necessary to avert a significant number of hospitalizations and deaths.
Although more than half of the countries in Europe’s single market are already administering second booster shots, the uptake remains low and uneven across countries, according to data from the E.C.D.C. The center approves drugs and makes recommendations, but individual European countries set their own policies.
As part of its announcement on Monday, E.U. health authorities also recommended that people with “medical conditions putting them at high risk of severe disease” receive a second booster. The authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday clarifying which medical conditions qualified.
In April, they recommended that those ages 80 and older be considered for a second booster, but said it was “too early” to do so for the general population.
On Monday, E.C.D.C. said that those 60 and older, as well as people with at-risk medical conditions, should receive a second booster at least four months after the previous one, “with a focus on people who have received a previous booster more than six months ago.” The agency stopped short of recommending the shots for healthy people younger than 60, citing a lack of clear evidence to justify the move.
With cases rising, Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “I urge everybody to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible. There is no time to lose.”
E.U. health officials said that while only currently authorized vaccines should be used for second boosters, work continues to adapt existing vaccines to fight the Omicron variants driving the new wave of cases.
“We are working toward possible approvals of adapted vaccines in September,” said the European Medicines Agency’s executive director, Emer Cooke, adding that the health authorities were already reviewing data for two adapted vaccines.