“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic. Not only do they work, they are also highly effective in preventing infection. However, the roll-out of these vaccines is unacceptably slow,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge said in the statement.
“And 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. 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.”
Dorit Nitzan, regional emergency director for WHO Europe, warned that it was only five weeks ago that new cases in Europe had dipped to under 1 million, but now with more mobility, gatherings over religious holidays and the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant — first identified in the UK — pose a greater public risk. Last week there were 1.6 million new cases iin the region and almost 24,000 deaths.
“This variant is more transmissible and can increase the risk of hospitalization, it has a greater public health impact and additional actions are required to control it,” Nitzan said.
As the vaccination rollout grows across Europe, WHO is calling for early action to implement public health and social measures.
The statement added that 27 countries in Europe are in a partial or full nationwide lockdown, with 21 imposing night time curfews. In the past two weeks, 23 countries have intensified restrictions while 13 have eased measures, with an additional nine to follow suit.
A weak spot in the EU’s program is its heavy reliance on vaccines by British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca. The EU ordered at least 300 million doses from AstraZeneca, but the company’s deliveries have been tens of millions of doses short of agreed quarterly targets. AstraZeneca has cited lower-than-expected yields from its EU plants as the reason for the shortfall. It appears to be delivering to schedule to the UK, which ordered 100 million doses from the company. AstraZeneca has publicly said it is prioritizing the UK market with doses made in the UK.
Other drug companies have also underdelivered to the EU.
Macron had, until Tuesday, resisted a nationwide lockdown similar to those seen in countries like Germany and the UK. The country had instead imposed restrictions in pockets of the country.
Almost 44% of all Covid patients in France’s intensive care units are under the age of 65, Macron said Tuesday. He insisted that France had made the “right choices” so far, but added that in the past few weeks the vaccine has “accelerated” and “things have changed.”