Autumn COVID-19 vaccines to target XBB variant
Vaccines against COVID-19, administered in the EU in the autumn of 2023, will be updated to target XBB forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These strains are a subgroup of Omicron and have become dominant in Europe and other parts of the world. In particular, protection against XBB.1.5 was highlighted by experts as being a priority.
The existing range of vaccines continue to be effective in preventing hospitalisation, severe disease and death due to COVID-19, according to a joint statement by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC). However, protection against the virus declines over time, particularly as new variants emerge.
A single dose of the adapted vaccine is considered sufficient for individuals above five years of age. For younger children who have not been vaccinated and have not been infected with the virus, a two or three-dose series of vaccines is advised.
People with weakened immune systems may need additional doses in line with national recommendations, authorities said. There should be a minimum of three months between vaccines. However, a four-month interval between doses can be considered, given the evidence showing that protection against severe disease lasts for at least four months.
The ECDC and EMA advise that the future vaccination campaigns ahead of the autumn should prioritise people who are more at risk of having severe disease. These include people aged 60 years and above, people with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions putting them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 irrespective of age and those who are pregnant.
Vaccination of healthcare workers should also be considered because of their likely increased exposure to new waves of SARS-CoV-2 and their key role in the functioning of healthcare systems.
‘Timely vaccination ahead of a potential autumn and winter 2023 surge of COVID-19 cases is essential for protecting people from severe COVID-19 and health systems from being overwhelmed,’ the authorities said in a joint statement.