Covid-19 in Europe

UN health body critical of 'slow' European Covid vaccination efforts

The World Health Organisation's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge.
The World Health Organisation's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge. © AFP

The WHO's European director has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic won't be over until at least 70 percent of people are vaccinated, at the same time deploring the vaccine rollout in Europe as still "too slow".

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The World Health Organisation's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, has warned against complacency in the face of the pandemic.

"Don't think the Covid-19 pandemic is over," Kluge told  the French AFP news agency in an interview. He insists that vaccination rates need to increase.

"The pandemic will be over once we reach 70 percent minimum coverage in vaccination," the regional director said.

In the 53 countries and territories that make up the WHO's European region, 26 percent of the population has received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

In the European Union, 36.6 percent of the population has received at least one dose and 16.9 percent have been fully vaccinated.

Concern about highly contagious variants

Kluge said one of his main concerns was the increased contagiousness of new variants.

"We know for example that the B.1617 (Indian variant) is more transmissible than the B.117 (British variant), which already was more transmissible than the previous strain," Kluge noted.

Cases of the so-called Indian variant have been recorded in 27 of the European region's 53 countries. The number of new cases, and deaths, have fallen for five consecutive weeks, reaching their lowest levels since mid-October.

Worldwide, the number of new cases has declined for four weeks in succession.

Vigilance still essential

While vaccines have proven effective against coronavirus mutations, people must still be vigilant, Kluge emphasised.

The Belgian doctor said a major concern was that people might drop their guard and become complacent, especially going into the summer months.

In addition, large gatherings are on the horizon in conjunction with the European football championship.

"Let's finally give Covid-19 the red card, don't allow extra time for Covid-19," Kluge quipped, repeating advice about maintaining social distance and wearing face masks.

He also emphasised that speed is essential.

"Our best friend is speed, time is working against us, the vaccination roll-out still goes too slow," Kluge said.

"We need to accelerate, we need to increase the number of vaccines," and European countries need to show more solidarity.

"It is not acceptable that some countries start to vaccinate the younger, healthy part of the population, while other countries in our region still have not covered all the health-care workers and the most vulnerable people," Kluge said.

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