LONDON. According to the World Health Organization, Europe is lagging behind in its vaccination campaign and could be dead by hundreds of thousands more by next spring.
“We only have 54% of the 1 billion people living in Europe fully vaccinated,” Robb Butler, executive director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, told CNBC on Wednesday.
This region for the UN health agency consists of 53 countries that actually cover Europe and Central Asia and have approximately 900,000 citizens at last count.
“There is [around] 45% of them are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated, this is a bigger problem for our policy and decision-makers right now – increasing the level of vaccinations, ”he told CNBC Squawk Box Europe on Wednesday.
Butler’s comments come as Europe is grappling with the latest wave of Covid infections, prompting further restrictive measures and increasing hospitalizations.
Most, if not all, people who have been admitted to intensive care units with Covid are not vaccinated, health officials from across the region say. Covid vaccines cannot completely stop transmission of the virus, but they do significantly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalization, and death.
The large number of unvaccinated people in the WHO Regional Office for Europe puts it at risk of additional deaths in the coming months, the WHO warned on Tuesday in a statement that said the death toll from Covid in Europe and Central Asia could rise by 700,000 to reach more. over 2.2 million by March next year.
The WHO European office said the European region has already recorded 1.5 million deaths from Covid, with the virus now becoming the leading cause of death in both Europe and Central Asia.
About 4,200 people are currently dying in the region every day, the statement said, double the number of deaths recorded at the end of September.
The WHO has repeatedly stated that Europe is at the epicenter of the latest global wave of Covid infections. Vaccination rates, both for the initial Covid vaccination program and for boosters, vary greatly from country to country.
Germany is mulling tougher Covid restrictions that could include isolation measures, a decision is expected on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Spain is tightening controls as the number of infections rises. Austria opted for complete isolation, while the Netherlands preferred partial isolation.
Austria is so far the only country in Europe to make Covid vaccines mandatory from February next year, although there have been calls in other countries for mandatory vaccines.
WHO’s Butler said the health agency has no position on mandates, but said it was a “very delicate” issue.
“It polarizes, you risk marginalizing [people] and this can be done through trust and social inclusion. So this is a very delicate measure, an extreme measure. The lessons of history have shown us that where vaccines are mandatory or mandatory, there is an erosion of trust and we are seeing this polarization, ”he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday called for booster shots and said other preventive measures need to be taken to reduce infections.
“Further measures are needed to prevent or slow the spread of the virus. In other words, social distancing, wearing masks, and hygiene. All of this remains equally important. I know that many of us are really getting very difficult, but we must not forget something. In the EU, 1,600 people die every day from Covid, 1,600 people die day by day, ”she said.
“In this way, vaccinations and hygiene measures are an act of solidarity and save lives,” she added.
– Robert Toey of CNBC reported for this article.