The European Medicines Agency’s top scientist stated Tuesday that the pandemic is “ongoing” after U.S. President Joe Biden declared that the health crisis was over.
“I cannot honestly answer why President Biden came to that conclusion,” the regulator’s chief medical officer, Steffen Thirstrup, told journalists during a briefing.
“What is clear to me … is that we in Europe still consider the pandemic as ongoing, that it’s important that member states prepare for rollout of the vaccines, and especially the adaptive vaccines to prevent further spread of this disease in Europe,” Thirstrup added.
In an interview that aired late on Sunday in the U.S., Biden declared: “The pandemic is over,” adding: “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
The off-the-cuff remark caught Biden’s own senior health officials by surprise. The U.S. president had not originally planned to make major news on COVID, nor had he discussed with his health advisers announcing an end to the pandemic soon, two senior officials said.
There are concerns that such comments from positions of authority may impact efforts to curb any further waves of infection this winter.
Most countries in Europe have launched fall booster campaigns this month, including offering new vaccines from Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer that have been adapted to the Omicron strains of the coronavirus.
But uptake of even the first boosters has been significantly lower than that of primary vaccination courses.
Thirstrup noted that early polls are suggesting that, even with adapted vaccines, there is a limited appetite for further shots.
“We’ve seen polls in the Netherlands and Hungary pointing to a large degree of hesitancy among the general population for having these boosters, which I find very concerning,” he said.
The EMA, alongside the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, has repeatedly urged people to accept whatever booster that is now offered to them as the colder weather nears, and COVID and other respiratory infections are likely to rise.
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