By Philip Blenkinsop and Marine Strauss
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union residents will need to have COVID-19 vaccine booster jabs if they want to travel to another country in the bloc next summer free of tests or quarantines, the European Commission proposed on Thursday.
The Commission wants to harmonise rules across the 27 EU nations to allow free movement, a cornerstone of the European Union, but is facing new restrictions as cases break records in Europe https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/europe-rethinks-booster-shot-policy-covid-cases-hit-records-2021-11-24 and many EU countries roll out booster doses.
It made its proposal as Europe again became the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic even after successful vaccination campaigns, prompting some countries to consider new curbs on movement as the continent heads into winter.
EU governments, which will need to approve the Commission recommendation, kicked off debate on the topic https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eu-kicks-off-debate-need-booster-shots-travel-2021-11-23 on Tuesday. Greece proposed on Wednesday that people should in future be able to travel freely if they have received a dose in the past six months.
Accepting that immunity wanes over time, the executive Commission is proposing that people should be considered covered if the final dose of their primary vaccination was within the last nine months, and that this update should apply from Jan. 10.
Given most EU residents who were vaccinated received their final doses in the second and third quarters of 2021, their coverage would mostly expire by the middle of next year.
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that the current vaccination coverage was 65% of the EU population.
"For everyone to travel and live as safely as possible, we need to reach significantly higher vaccination rates - urgently. We also need to reinforce our immunity with booster vaccines," she said.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Wednesday https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eus-health-agency-says-vaccine-boosters-should-be-considered-all-adults-2021-11-24 recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40.
The Commission did say there were no studies yet expressly addressing the effectiveness of booster shots on transmission of COVID-19, but said it was likely that they provided longer protection than provided by initial shots.
EU coordination on COVID passes, which show if a holder is fully vaccinated or has had a recent negative test or recovery from infection, has allowed an easing of curbs on cross-border travel.
The passes, typically viewed on mobile devices, are issued by individual countries, but are recognised across the bloc. They are now increasingly being deployed in many EU countries for access to indoor areas such as restaurants or theatres.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Philip Blenkinsop; Additional reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Jan Harvey)