FILE - A woman receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Vaccine.
FILE - A woman receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Vaccine.

COVID-19 cases are declining among Europeans 80 and older and death rates in the age group are at the lowest level since the pandemic began, according to a World Health Organization official.

Speaking Thursday during a virtual news briefing in Athens, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge credited the improving trend to vaccination programs across the continent, which prioritized the elderly.

But Kluge said that was the only silver lining to the otherwise serious COVID-19 situation facing Europe. He said the region is averaging 1.6 million new cases a week and more than 9,500 new cases per hour. Last week, Europe surpassed one million deaths since the pandemic began.

The WHO regional director said intensive care unit capacity in regional hospitals is being exceeded, with intensive care patients in France reaching their highest levels since this time last year.  

Kluge did say there are early signs of declining virus transmission in several countries. But he stressed that early signs of decline are not equal to low rates of transmission. 

He said the only way to achieve that is strict adherence to measures designed to slow the spread of infection, such as social distancing, and the use of COVID-19 vaccines.  

FILE - Hans Kluge, World Health Organization regional director for Europe, attends a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Moscow.

Kluge also discussed concerns about blood clots among a small number of people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.  Kluge said the WHO and its Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety and immunization experts continue to review evidence regarding the incidents and urges all member states to report any adverse effects that may occur after vaccination.

But Kluge said for now, the risk of suffering blood clots is much higher for someone with COVID-19 than someone who has received the AstraZeneca vaccine. He said the vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, and said the WHO continues to recommend its use for all eligible adults.

On Wednesday, Denmark became the first country to permanently discontinue use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control recommended pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States, after six blood clot cases – similar to those reported with the AsthtraZeneca shot - were reported there.

Special Section