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WHO Europe Office, EU, Cooperate on Vaccines for Eastern Europe

The AstraZeneca vaccine is prepared in the COVID-19 vaccination center at the Odeon Luxe Cinema in Maidstone, Britain, Feb. 10, 2021.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) European office announced Thursday it will partner with the European Union to deploy COVID-19 vaccines in six eastern European nations.

Speaking at his headquarters in Copenhagan, WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge said the nearly $50 million program will target Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

Kluge said the program is intended to ensure equitable access to vaccines throughout Europe. “Vaccines offer a way to emerge faster from this pandemic, but only if we ensure that all countries, irrespective of income level, have access to them," he said.

Kluge said the program will focus on vaccine readiness, information campaigns, supplies and training of health workers in the countries. It will complement existing EU sharing programs and the WHO-supported vaccine cooperative COVAX facility designed to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines throughout the world.

Kluge also noted, with cautious optimism, that overall case incidences of COVID-19 in the 53-country WHO Europe region has declined for four straight weeks and said COVID-19-related deaths have fallen in each of the last two weeks. He said hospitalization rates have also declined.

But he cautioned that the decline in cases conceals increasing numbers of outbreaks and community spread involving COVID-19 variants of concern, “meaning that we need to watch overall trends in transmission carefully and avoid rash decisions.”

Kluge said the vaccination news in Europe is also mixed. He noted in the region, the total number of vaccination doses given has surpassed the number of reported COVID-19 cases — with some 41 million doses administered compared to 36 million reported cases.

But he said, in 29 out of the 37 countries currently vaccinating in the European region today, 7.8 million people have completed their immunization series. That is equivalent to only 1.5% of the population of those 29 countries.”