The World Health Organization says Europe’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts are “unacceptably slow” in the face of a new surge of the virus and new, more contagious variants.
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s European director, issued a statement Thursday urging the continent’s leaders to “speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now.”
The number of new infections across Europe had fallen below 1 million just five weeks ago, but the global health agency says those numbers have since surged to 1.6 million new cases, with nearly 24,000 deaths.
Dr. Kluge said barely 10% of people across Europe have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with just 4% fully vaccinated.
Europe’s vaccination efforts have been hobbled by the troubled rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. France, Germany and Spain recently announced they were limiting use of the two-dose regimen due to concerns it may be causing blood clots, although Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said Wednesday the organization has found no scientific evidence to support such restrictions.
Meanwhile, Pfizer-BioNTech announced Thursday their vaccine continues to be effective against COVID-19 up to six months after full vaccination. The data comes from an ongoing late-stage study of more than 44,000 volunteers.
According to the study, the vaccine was 91% effective against symptomatic disease and was even more protective in preventing severe disease. Of 927 confirmed COVID-19 cases detected through March 13, 77 were among study volunteers who received the vaccine and 850 were among study volunteers who got dummy shots.
They reported no serious safety concerns and the vaccine also appeared to work against a variant first detected in South Africa.
This latest news comes a day after Pfizer announced it had produced 120 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for the U.S. The drugmaker is on track to deliver to the U.S. 200 million doses by the end of May and 300 million doses by the end of July, as they had vowed earlier this year.
Elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the country into its third national lockdown Wednesday to slow a third wave of COVID-19 from spreading throughout the nation.
Among the lockdown measures, Macron closed all schools for three weeks beginning Monday.
Macron had hoped to avoid a lockdown and the effect it would have on the economy. However, the country’s death toll is nearing 100,000 and it has struggled with a vaccine rollout that has been slower than hoped for. A rise in cases is crippling intensive care units in areas hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We will lose control if we do not move now," he said in a televised address to the nation. He also announced travel restrictions, beginning Saturday, for the whole country for at least a month.