The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the alarm on Europe’s “unacceptably slow” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as it warned of a “worrying” surge in coronavirus infections.
WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said that a sluggish start to immunisation programmes in the region was “prolonging” the pandemic.
“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic. Not only do they work, they are also highly effective in preventing infection,” he said in a statement.
“However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow,” Kluge added. “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.”
WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries – including all 27 member states of the European Union, former EU member the United Kingdom, Russia, several Central Asian nations and Israel.
To date, just 10 percent of the region’s total population of 900 million have received one dose of vaccine, the United Nations health agency said. Only four percent have been fully inoculated.
While a handful of countries within the region such as Israel and the UK have high vaccination rates, many others have struggled to make headway.
EU member states, in particular, have been plagued by vaccine delivery delays, production bottlenecks and political blunders.
Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, according to the WHO. But last week saw infection rates soar in the majority of countries in the region, with 1.6 million new cases recorded.
Amid the surge, the total number of deaths in Europe “is fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million,” it said.