The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled Europe’s rollout of Covid-19 vaccines as “unacceptably slow,” warning delays are “prolonging the pandemic” and described a surge in new infections in the region as “worrying.”
The WHO statement from its top leadership in Europe on Thursday came after most countries reported increased coronavirus cases and deaths over the past seven days. Last week, Europe recorded 1.6 million new Covid-19 infections and close to 24,000 deaths. It is the world’s second-worst affected region with nearly 1 million deaths and 45 million infections since the pandemic began.
“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic,” said Hans Kruge, WHO’s director for Europe. “However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow.”
Dr. Dorit Nitzan, the WHO’s regional emergency director, said that only five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under 1 million, adding that Easter gatherings risked more spread.
Now the region’s situation is more worrying than we have seen in several months. There are risks associated with the increased mobility and gatherings over the religious holidays.
The WHO said speeding up the rollout of vaccines is crucial as new cases are increasing in every age group except those over 80-years of age – showing that vaccination works once they’re administered.
“As long as coverage remains low, we need to apply the same public health and social measures as we have in the past, to compensate for delayed schedules,” Kluge warned. “Let me be clear: we must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now.”
Kluge said the WHO had seen some countries hoarding vaccines and he urged governments to “share excess doses” with countries in need. To date, only 10% of the region’s total population has received one vaccine dose while 4% have had both jabs.
The greatest determinant of how many people get infected and how many people die in the coming weeks is what you as an individual do – or don’t do. We have seen it time and time again: virus spread can be stopped.
On Thursday, 27 countries in the region are in partial or full nationwide lockdown, with 21 imposing night-time curfews.