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COVID-19

Franco-Austrian Covid jab under EU review

A Covid-19 vaccine developed by Franco-Austrian biotech company Valneva is being assessed by the European Medicines Agency with a view to roll it out. The EU has already ordered close to 60 million doses.

An illustration picture shows vaccines made by the French-Austrian biotech firm Valneva.
An illustration picture shows vaccines made by the French-Austrian biotech firm Valneva. The EU is assessing its safety with a view to eventually rolling it out. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Europe’s drug watchdog launched an accelerated review Thursday of a Covid-19 vaccine by Franco-Austrian biotech firm Valneva, for which the EU has already signed a deal for up to 60 million doses.

The jab — which uses “inactivated” viruses rather than the new mRNA technology of the Pfizer or Moderna shots — showed in trials that it produced antibodies against coronavirus, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.

“EMA’s human medicines committee has started a rolling review of VLA2001, a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Valneva,” the Amsterdam-based regulator said in a statement.

“While EMA cannot predict the overall timelines, it should take less time than normal to evaluate an eventual application because of the work done during the rolling review,” it said.

It typically takes a few months for vaccines to go from the review stage to approval, although some such as those developed in Russia and China have been waiting longer.

The European Commission announced a deal with Valneva on November 10 to provide about 27 million doses in 2022 and 33 million in 2023.

Valneva’s shares rose on that announcement, but have not completely eclipsed their losses from September, when Britain cancelled an order for 100 million doses of the jab, wiping out more than half the stock market valuation.

The Nantes-based firm has received backing from the French government, which was embarrassed by the country’s failure to produce a Covid-19 jab following setbacks for national pharma champion Sanofi and the renowned Pasteur Institute.

The EMA said Valneva’s studies “suggest that the vaccine triggers the production of antibodies that target SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and may help protect against the disease.”

“EMA will evaluate data as they become available to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks,” it added.

Valneva’s jab uses the same inactivated virus method as most flu and many childhood vaccines, which health officials hope could reduce vaccine scepticism about some of the newer-technology jabs.

The EMA has so far approved four vaccines for use for adults in the EU.

The US-German jab by Pfizer-BioNTech and the shot by US pharma firm Moderna use messenger RNA technology. The British Swedish AstraZeneca-Oxford jab and Johnson & Johnson vaccine use viral vector technology.

A decision on a bid for approval by US pharma firm Novavax is expected within weeks.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria's federal government on Thursday announced it would scrap its controversial mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law.

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria will cancel its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law, the federal government announced during a press conference on Thursday.

The controversial law had been suspended until August after coronavirus infection rates slowed. However, it hadn’t been abolished.

The government could still bring back a set of regulations allowing police to check people’s vaccinated status. Those that could not prove they were either vaccinated, or recently recovered from the disease, would have to pay a fine.

“The omicron variant changed the situation”, health minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

He added that the law was introduced in a different context and was supported by “a clear majority” at the time when hospitals were full and “intensive care units were on the limit”.

The minister said that the new variant has reduced the effectiveness of vaccination against infections and has caused less severe courses of the disease.

“Even people who are willing to vaccinate in principle are now more difficult to convince of the need for a third dose”.

Rauch said the obligation to vaccinate did not increase the take up of the Covid jab. Instead, it “opened deep trenches in Austrian society”, according to the minister.

The controversial law provoked numerous street protests throughout Austria after it was announced.

The minister said that the obligation itself even made some give up on their intent to get the jab.

Living with Covid

The new variants bring a new scenario to Austria and people will need to learn to coexist with the virus, according to the health minister.

“Living with Covid means that we will bring forward a comprehensive package of measures, and today that means the abolition of compulsory vaccination,” Rauch said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

The minister reiterated that vaccination is essential, especially as it helps prevent hospitalisations and more severe disease courses. He added that there should be an extensive vaccination campaign before Autumn and an expected winter Covid-19 wave.

Currently, about 62 percent of the Austrian population has a valid vaccination certificate. However, the number has decreased as people fail to schedule booster, or a third-dose, appointments.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining vaccines and the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.

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