- The WHO has said Europe is lagging behind in its vaccination campaign and hundreds and thousands could die by next spring.
- “Only 54% of the one billion people living in Europe have been fully vaccinated,” said WHO Europe executive director Rob Butler.
- The WHO has warned of a possible 700,000 more deaths in Europe and Central Asia by spring.
LONDON – Europe is lagging behind in its vaccination campaign and could kill hundreds and thousands more by next spring, the World Health Organization has said.
“Only 54% of the one billion people living in Europe have been fully vaccinated,” WHO Europe executive director Rob Butler told CNBC on Wednesday.
For the United Nations Health Agency, the region comprises 53 countries that are virtually spread across Europe and Central Asia and approximately 900,000 citizens at its last count.
“There [around] The 45% who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, it’s a big issue for our policy and decision-makers right now – to increase vaccination rates,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.
Butler’s remarks come as Europe struggles with the latest wave of Covid infections, prompting further restrictive measures and increasing hospitalizations.
Health officials across the region have reported that most, if not all, people admitted to hospital’s intensive care wards with COVID have not been vaccinated. COVID vaccines cannot completely prevent transmission of the virus, but they greatly reduce the risk of serious infection, hospitalization, and death.
Europe’s largely unaffiliated people put it at risk of more deaths in the coming months, the WHO warned in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the Covid death toll in Europe and Central Asia is estimated to be 700,000. can reach more than More than 2.2 million by next March.
WHO’s Europe branch said the Europe region has already recorded 1.5 million Covid deaths, with the virus now becoming the leading cause of death in both Europe and Central Asia.
The region is currently facing around 4,200 deaths per day, which is double the daily deaths recorded at the end of September, the statement said.
The WHO has repeatedly said that Europe is at the center of the latest global wave of Covid infections. Vaccination rates, both the initial COVID vaccination schedule and the booster shot, vary widely from country to country.
Germany is considering stricter COVID restrictions that could include lockdown measures, with a decision expected on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Spain is tightening controls as infection numbers rise. Austria has opted for a complete lockdown and the Netherlands a partial one.
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 to make the vaccines mandatory.
The WHO’s Butler said the health agency had no position on the mandate, but added that it was a “very delicate” matter.
“It polarizes, you risk marginalization [people] And it may come at the cost of trust and social inclusion. So this is a very delicate measure, a last resort. The lessons of history have shown us that where vaccines are or have been made mandatory, there has been an erosion of trust and we have seen this polarization.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday called for the deployment of booster shots and said other preventive measures should be adopted to keep the number of infections down.
“More measures are necessary to stop or slow down the spread of the virus. In other words, social distancing, mask wearing and hygiene rules. These are all equally important. I know many of us really have this. It’s starting to sound very difficult, but we must not forget. In the EU, 1,600 people die of Covid every day, 1,600 people, day by day,” she said.
“Therefore, vaccination and sanitation measures are acts of solidarity, and they save lives,” she said.
—CNBC’s Robert Tovey contributed reporting this story.