WHO: Europe's vaccination program is 'unacceptably slow'

A senior World Health Organization official says immunization campaigns against COVID-19 across Europe “unacceptably slow” and risk prolonging the pandemic

LONDON -- European nations' immunization campaigns against COVID-19 are “unacceptably slow” and risk prolonging the pandemic, a senior World Health Organization official said Thursday.

Even those numbers hide the true scope of the problems facing the European Union's 27 nations, where only about 5.6% of its people have had a first vaccine shot, according to the bloc. In Britain, that figure is 46% of its population.

WHO said new COVID-19 infections are increasing in every age group except those over 80, in a sign that vaccination efforts are having an impact in slowing outbreaks. But the U.N. health agency said “early action” to stop the virus' spread must be taken in the absence of high immunization rates.

Faced with rising hospitalizations that were overwhelming hospitals in Paris and elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron imposed new measures to combat a resurgence of the virus, including a three-week school closure and a domestic travel ban.

WHO says there were 1.6 million new cases and nearly 24,000 deaths in its European region last week. The 27-nation European Union has counted over 612,000 virus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, and if other European nations like Britain, Russia, Switzerland and others are counted, Europe has seen over 928,000 virus deaths during the pandemic.

“The region’s situation is more worrying than we have seen in several months,” said Dr. Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s emergency manager, who warned people not to travel or gather in large groups over the coming religious holidays.

"Many countries are introducing new measures that are necessary and everyone should follow as much as they can,” Nitzan said.

Kluge said his message to European countries was that “now is not the time to relax measures.”

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Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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