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Only 54% of Europe is fully vaccinated, WHO official says

LONDON – Europe is falling behind in its vaccination campaign and could see hundreds of thousands more deaths by next spring, the World Health Organization has said.

“We only have 54% of the billion people living in Europe fully vaccinated,” Robb Butler, executive director of WHO Europe, told CNBC on Wednesday.

This region of the United Nations health agency includes 53 countries that actually span Europe and Central Asia and has around 900,000 citizens at last count.

“There are [around] 45% who are not vaccinated or who are not fully vaccinated is a bigger problem for our policy and our decision-makers right now – driving up vaccination rates, “he told Wednesday. CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe”.

Butler’s comments come as Europe grapples with the latest wave of Covid infections, prompting further restrictive measures and pushing hospitalizations up.

Most, if not all, of people who have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with Covid are not vaccinated, health officials across the region have reported. Covid vaccines cannot completely stop the transmission of the virus, but they significantly reduce the risk of serious infection, hospitalization and death.

The high proportion of unvaccinated people in Europe puts them at risk of excessive death in the months to come, WHO warned on Tuesday, issuing a statement in which it is said that the death toll from Covid in Europe and in Central Asia could increase by 700,000 to more than 2.2 million by next March.

The Europe region has already recorded 1.5 million deaths from Covid, with the virus now becoming the leading cause of death in Europe and Central Asia, the WHO’s Europe branch said.

The region is currently experiencing nearly 4,200 deaths per day, double the daily deaths recorded at the end of September, the statement noted.

The WHO has repeatedly stated that Europe is at the epicenter of the latest global wave of Covid infections. Vaccination rates, both for initial Covid vaccination programs and for booster shots, differ significantly from country to country.

Germany is considering tighter Covid restrictions which could include lockdown measures with a decision expected on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Spain is tightening controls as the number of infections rises. Austria has opted for full containment and the Netherlands for partial containment.

Austria is, so far, the only country in Europe that will make Covid vaccines mandatory from February next year, although there have been calls in other countries to return the vaccines. mandatory.

Butler of the WHO said the health agency did not have a position on the mandates, but said it was a “very sensitive” issue.

“It polarizes, you risk marginalizing [people] and this can be done at the expense of trust and social inclusion. It is therefore a very delicate measure, a measure of last resort. The lessons of history have shown us that where vaccines are compulsory or made compulsory, there is an erosion of trust and we have seen this polarization, ”he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday called for the rollout of booster vaccines and said further preventive measures should be taken to reduce the number of infections.

“Additional measures are needed to prevent or slow the spread of the virus. In other words, social distancing, wearing masks and hygiene rules. All of this remains just as important. I know many of them we are really starting to find it very difficult, but we must not forget something. In the EU, 1,600 people die every day from Covid, 1,600 people, day after day, “she noted.

“Therefore, vaccination and hygiene measures are an act of solidarity, and they save lives,” she added.

—Robert Towey of CNBC contributed reporting for this story.

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