With highly vaccinated Europe in the grip of a new wave of the pandemic, the top United Nations health official told vaccinated people to take precautions against spreading the coronavirus, especially as the world reels from the highly contagious delta variant.
(CN) — With Europe amid a new devastating wave of coronavirus infections, the head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday warned that too many vaccinated people feel “a false sense of security” and are allowing the virus to spread.
“We cannot say this clearly enough: Even if you’re vaccinated, continue to take precautions to prevent becoming infected yourself and infecting someone else who could die,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general.
People who have received vaccines should continue wearing masks, avoid crowds, interact as much as possible with others outdoors and take other precautions, he said.
He said experts believe vaccinated people are able to spread the highly contagious delta variant of the virus more easily.
“Data suggests that before the arrival of delta variant, vaccines reduced transmission by about 60%,” he said. “With delta, that has dropped to about 40%.”
He directed his warning mostly at Europe, which he said has become the epicenter of the pandemic once again.
“The sheer number of cases is translating to unsustainable pressure on health systems and exhausted health workers,” he said during a news briefing at the United Nations health agency’s Geneva headquarters. “In many countries and communities, we are concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions.”
He said vaccinated people are at much lower risk of severe disease and dying from the virus. “But you’re still at risk of being infected and of infecting others,” Tedros said.
In the past week, more than 60% of new infections and deaths globally were reported in the health agency’s European region, which includes 53 countries spanning from Central Asia to western Europe.
With nearly 4,200 deaths being reported a day, the WHO said that Europe is on track to exceed 2 million deaths from Covid-19 by March. More than 1.5 million deaths have so far been recorded in the agency’s Europe region. Russia and Ukraine are reporting the highest death tolls. But hundreds of infected people are dying each day in Romania, Poland, Germany, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Bulgaria. Countries hit the hardest in the early phases of the pandemic, such as Italy, Spain and France, are doing better.
At a news conference on Monday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn issued a stark warning that Germans will be “vaccinated, cured or dead” by the end of this winter.
“Probably by the end of this winter pretty much everyone in Germany – as has sometimes been cynically put – will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” he said. “But this really is the case: With the very contagious delta variant, it is very, very likely … that anyone who is not vaccinated will over the next few months become infected and lack protection.”
His stark statement drew both criticism and praise. Across Europe, vaccination has become a highly volatile issue. Many European cities have seen large demonstrations against vaccination mandates and restrictions on the unvaccinated. Protests turned violent in the Netherlands and Belgium over the weekend.
With about 66% of citizens in the European Union fully vaccinated, European nations have among the highest inoculation rates in the world, but still millions of people remain unvaccinated and resistance to vaccines is strong in some countries.
Germany has about 68% of its total population and about 81% of adults fully inoculated. It is reporting more than 52,000 new cases a day and more than 200 new daily deaths.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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