COVID-19 looms in Europe as booster campaign starts slow

A woman walks past a pharmacy advertising in its window, "Here vaccine test COVID without appointment" on Aug 1, 2022 in Nîmes in the south of France. (PASCAL GUYOT / AFP)

LOS ANGELES – A new COVID-19 wave appears to be brewing in Europe as cooler weather arrives, with public health experts warning that vaccine fatigue and confusion over types of available vaccines will likely limit booster uptake.

Omicron subvariants BA.4/5 that dominated this summer are still behind the majority of infections, but newer Omicron subvariants are gaining ground. Hundreds of new forms of Omicron are being tracked by scientists, World Health Organisation officials said this week.

WHO data released late on Wednesday showed that cases in the European Union reached 1.5 million last week, up 8 percent from the prior week, despite a dramatic fall in testing. Globally, case numbers continue to decline

WHO data released late on Wednesday showed that cases in the European Union reached 1.5 million last week, up 8 percent from the prior week, despite a dramatic fall in testing. Globally, case numbers continue to decline.

Hospitalization numbers across many countries in the 27-nation bloc, as well as Britain, have gone up in recent weeks.

In the week ended Oct 4, COVID-19 hospital admissions with symptoms jumped nearly 32 percent in Italy, while intensive care admissions rose about 21 percent, compared to the week before, according to data compiled by independent scientific foundation Gimbe.

Over the same week, COVID hospitalizations in Britain saw a 45 percent increase versus the week earlier.

Omicron-adapted vaccines have launched in Europe as of September, with two types of shots addressing the BA.1 as well as the BA.4/5 subvariants made available alongside existing first-generation vaccines. In Britain, only the BA.1-tailored shots have been given the green light.

European and British officials have endorsed the latest boosters only for a select groups of people, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Complicating matters further is the "choice" of vaccine as a booster, which will likely add to confusion, public health experts said.

But willingness to get yet another shot, which could be a fourth or fifth for some, is wearing thin.

This handout photo provided on Nov 16, 2021 courtesy of Pfizer shows the making of its experimental COVID-19 antiviral pills inside his laboratory in Freiburg, Germany.


A rebound of COVID-19 symptoms in some patients after taking Pfizer's antiviral Paxlovid may be related to a robust immune response rather than a weak one, US government researchers reported on Thursday.

They concluded that taking a longer course of the drug – beyond the recommended five days – was not required to reduce the risk of a recurrence of symptoms as some have suggested, based on an intensive investigation of rebound in eight patients at the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center.

All patients in the study had developed robust immune responses, but researchers found higher levels of antibodies in the patients who experienced a rebound.

The team said their data argues against the hypothesis that impaired immune responses are the reason symptoms return in some patients.

"Our findings suggest that a more robust immune response rather than uncontrolled viral replication characterizes these clinical rebounds," the team wrote.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, followed numerous reports of individuals who took Paxlovid as recommended within five days of infection and saw a return of symptoms after they completed the five-day course of treatment.

President Joe Biden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr Anthony Fauci both experienced a COVID rebound after taking the medicine.

The cases raised concerns that Pfizer's two-drug antiviral treatment could interfere with development of a long-lasting immune response.

READ MORE: Pfizer COVID jab clears Japan panel for use with children


Health experts warned that the United States is bracing for a severe flu season and another fall wave of COVID-19 cases, urging the public to get flu shots and COVID-19 boosters.

Public health officials are concerned about a false sense of security after two milder flu seasons due to COVID precautions, said a report of CNN.

"I don't want to be alarmist, but I am concerned. We know that it's going to be a strain of flu that tends to be more severe," said Michael Phillips, an infectious disease expert at New York University Langone Health.

"For those ages greater than 65, there's a specific formulations of vaccines that you should get and it dramatically reduces the likelihood of hospitalization and death," Phillips said.

Less than half of US adults plan to get a flu shot this year and just a third feel safe getting a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time, according to a survey of the US National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

US health officials are expecting another fall COVID-19 surge as immunity from vaccination wanes off and people head indoors as the weather turns colder.

Meanwhile, more transmissible Omicron subvariants are emerging, adding risks for fall and winter COVID-19 surge, and experts are urging the public to get COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to protect themselves as well as the vulnerable groups.