Senior World Health Organization officials said Europe saw a more than 50% jump in coronavirus cases last month, making it the epicenter of the pandemic despite a plentiful supply of vaccines.
«There may be a lot of vaccines available, but the uptake of the vaccine has not been equal,» WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan said during a press briefing.
He called on European authorities to «close the gap» in vaccinations.
However, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said countries that have vaccinated more than 40% of their population should stop, and instead donate their doses to developing countries that have not yet provided the first dose to their citizens.
«More boosters should only be given to people who are immunocompromised,» he said.
More than 60 countries have started giving booster doses to combat weakened immunity before winter, when another wave of Covid-19 is expected.
In the United States, children aged 5 to 11 began getting Covid-19 injections this week after authorities decided the benefits outweighed the risks.
Earlier on Thursday, the director of the WHO’s 53-nation Europe region, Dr. Hans Kluge, said the rising number of Covid-19 cases was a «grave concern».
“Europe is back in the epicenter of the epidemic, where we were a year ago,” said Dr. Kluge.
He warned that hospital admissions rates for the coronavirus had more than doubled in the past week and predicted that on this path, the region could see another 500,000 deaths from the pandemic by February.
The World Health Organization in Europe says the region, which stretches as far east as the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, has recorded nearly 1.8 million new weekly cases, about 6% more than the previous week, and 24,000 weekly deaths of Covid-19 – 12% profit.
Dr Kluge said countries in the region were in «varying stages of starting vaccination» and that across the region 47% of people were fully vaccinated.
Only eight countries have 70% of their population fully immunized.
The increase in Covid-19 in Europe marks the fifth consecutive week that cases have risen across the continent, making it the only region in the world where Covid-19 is still rising.
The infection rate was by far the highest in Europe, reporting about 192 new cases per 100,000 people.
«It is clear that we are in another wave,» said Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, adding that «the increasing prevalence is entirely concentrated in Europe.»
Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have seen a rise in daily case numbers in recent weeks.
In an online briefing from the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA), experts urged people to get vaccinated.
“The epidemiological situation in Europe is now very worrying as we approach winter, with increased infection rates, hospitalizations, and we could also see an increase in deaths,” said Fergus Sweeney, head of clinical and manufacturing studies at EMA.
He stressed that, «It is very important for everyone to be vaccinated or to complete the vaccination dose if they have already had a first dose but not a second one. It is really important that all of us are vaccinated because we are not all protected until everyone is protected in this regard.»