This file photo dated April 20, 2021 shows an exterior view of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (PETER DEJONG / FILE / AP)

NEW YORK / BERLIN / ROME – Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the Omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.

Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.

While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.

As such, an Omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could "increase and extend" protection, according to a statement from the EMA.

The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the Omicron variant.

Vaccines which include other variants, for example the Beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against Omicron and other variants of concern, according to the statement.

A young man receives the Nuvaxovid vaccine against COVID-19 coronavirus, at the CIZ Tegel vaccination center in Berlin, on Feb 28, 2022. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP)


COVID-19 infections have been steadily growing in Germany due mainly to the spread of Omicron variant BA.5, which now accounts for almost 66 percent of all infections, according to data released on Friday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases.

Within a week, the country's seven-day COVID-19 incidence rate has climbed from 618 to around 683 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, the RKI said in its latest weekly report. The number of daily infections rose to just over 113,000 cases, it said.

The number of severe COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been growing in line with the growth in infections, the RKI reported.

Although Germany was one of the last countries in the European Union to drop restrictions for travelers entering from within the EU, most restrictions on public life have now been lifted.

The German government is currently working on new COVID-19 regulations to prepare for possible spikes in infection rates later in the year. 

"As important regulations for pandemic control are about to expire, it is important to prepare a new legal framework in time," the government said in a statement on Friday, following the presentation of an expert report on current COVID-19 protection measures in Germany.

A medical staffer takes a nasal swab for a COVID-19 rapid test at a testing site in Rome on Dec 30, 2021. (ANDREW MEDICHINI / AP)


Italy's COVID-19 transmission rate has increased for the fourth consecutive week, according to a weekly government report released Friday.

The rate has been above 1.0 for the second consecutive week, which means the virus is in a phase of expansion, the Ministry of Health and its High Institute of Health said in its weekly monitoring report.

The rate for the period between June 7 and June 20, the most recent period covered, was 1.30, meaning that for each Italian resident who recovered, 1.30 were newly infected. That figure is up from a transmission rate of 1.07 in the report a week ago.

For the week ending June 30, the infection rate was 763 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, more than a 50 percent increase from 504 per 100,000 residents in the previous week.

Eight of Italy's 21 regions and autonomous provinces were considered at high coronavirus risk levels, with the others classified as moderate risk.

On Friday, the health ministry reported more than 86,000 new COVID-19 cases, up from nearly 84,000 a day earlier and the highest one-day total in the country since April. The pandemic claimed 72 lives in Italy on Friday, the highest one-day total in two weeks.

This file photo shows vials with COVID-19 vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US biotech company Novavax, on Nov 17, 2020. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)


Novavax Inc said on Friday it expects to provide a COVID-19 vaccine targeting Omicron in the fourth quarter as it accelerates development of shots to protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

Novavax expects additional preclinical data on shots tailored against the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants in late summer or fall.

The company's vaccine, based on an earlier strain of the virus, has not yet been authorized in the United States and is currently under US Food and Drug Administration review.

United States

More than 1 million people have died of COVID-19 in the United States, and people continue to die from the virus despite widely available vaccines and growing levels of immunity, but not in droves like they once did, NBC10 Boston reported on Thursday, citing Boston doctors.

"The US has experienced three major variants since the start of the pandemic: Alpha, Delta and Omicron. Each took over as the dominant strain and set off a wave of COVID cases across the state and the country," said the report.

Now, two new highly-contagious Omicron subvariants are on track to supersede its ancestor, and the prospect of an entirely new variant is always around the corner, the report quoted experts as saying.

Despite a substantial growth in collective immunity through the development of vaccines and natural infection, people do and will continue to die from COVID-19, said the report.

"More and more people are expected to die from the virus, with some projecting over 900,000 deaths in the United States over the next year," it added.