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EU drugs regulator says ‘promising evidence’ mRNA vaccines could neutralize Indian Covid-19 variant

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it has seen “promising evidence” that mRNA Covid-19 vaccines would be able to “neutralize” the Indian variant of the virus, and it is monitoring the situation closely.

The B.1.617.2 variant, which was first detected in India in October, has contributed towards the country’s devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections throughout April and into May.

Some hospitals have been pushed to breaking point by the admission of Covid-19 patients and have run out of supplies of oxygen to treat those with breathing difficulties.

Researchers do not know if the variant, which has now spread to more than 30 countries, is more transmissible or resistant to vaccines.

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On Wednesday, the EMA’s vaccines strategy chief, Dr Marco Cavaleri, told a news briefing that emergent data is “rather reassuring” that mRNA Covid-19 vaccines – like Pfizer’s – will be able to neutralize the Indian variant to a level guaranteeing sufficient protection.

He said experts also think viral vector vaccines – like that made by AstraZeneca – will also be effective, adding that real-world data from a version of the jab which is currently being used in India would be forthcoming.

“So far overall we are pretty confident that the vaccines generally will be covering this variant,” he said.

On Wednesday, the European Commission asked the bloc’s member states to temporarily halt non-essential travel from India to curb the variant’s spread.

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The executive was reacting to the World Health Organization's declaration of B.1.617.2 as a “variant of concern” on Monday, after it was previously only classified as a “variant of interest.”

In a statement, the Commission said member states should use an “emergency brake” on travel from India and that any essential travelers should adhere to strict testing and quarantine arrangements.

On Wednesday, India’s Covid-19 death toll passed 254,000, according to health ministry data.

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