Over 1.4 million lives in Europe have been saved as a result of the COVID-19 vaccines.
In his initial communication for the new year, Dr. Hans Kluge emphasized that the absence of vaccines could have resulted in a death count of around four million on the continent, potentially even surpassing that number.
Over 2.5 million fatalities due to COVID-19 and 277 million confirmed cases have been recorded in the extensive WHO European Region, which includes 53 countries spanning from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
A ‘vital decision’
A study of 34 nations revealed that the majority of individuals (90%) whose lives were spared by vaccinations were aged 60 and above.
During the time frame from their initial distribution in December 2020 to March 2023, the vaccines decreased fatalities by 57%. The first additional doses alone were responsible for an estimated 700,000 lives saved.
According to Dr. Kluge, speaking from Copenhagen, there are currently 1.4 million individuals in our area (most of them being elderly) who are able to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy life because they made the important choice to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
He stated the undeniable effectiveness of vaccines. The proof is indisputable.
Vaccination must continue
The rates of COVID-19 in Europe are still high, but there is a decrease. The World Health Organization advises that individuals who are at a higher risk for the disease should receive a re-vaccination six to 12 months after their last dose.
This group consists of seniors, healthcare professionals, expectant mothers, and individuals with weakened immune systems or serious long-term health conditions.
At this time, the World Health Organization is observing a significant spread of respiratory illnesses such as influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and measles in Europe.
Flu rates rising
According to Dr. Kluge, the rates of RSV reached their highest point before the start of the new year and are now decreasing. On the other hand, the rates of influenza are increasing quickly, and there is a prediction of a significant increase in the next few weeks.
Over the last two weeks, there has been a nearly 60% surge in reported hospitalizations for the flu and a 21% rise in ICU admissions, compared to the two weeks prior.
The number of flu cases quadrupled from November to December, as 38 countries began experiencing the seasonal influenza epidemic. The elderly population and young children are most susceptible to severe illness.
He expressed worry over the news of hospitals facing strain and emergency rooms being filled due to a combination of respiratory viruses.
Variants and vigilance
Dr. Kluge emphasized that while COVID-19 infection rates are generally declining in Europe, the situation could quickly shift due to the emergence of a new variant of concern, JN.1, which is currently the most prevalent variant worldwide.
“The JN.1 variant does not currently have evidence indicating increased severity, but the ever-changing behavior of this virus emphasizes the importance of countries remaining vigilant in monitoring for potential new variants,” stated the speaker.
Dr. Kluge emphasized the importance of ongoing surveillance for COVID-19, as several countries have either decreased or ceased reporting data to the WHO. It is crucial to monitor the disease as it is expected to remain a significant issue.
He stated that we are knowledgeable about protecting ourselves and others from not only COVID-19 but also other respiratory infections. This includes taking precautions such as staying home when feeling ill and wearing masks in places like hospitals or crowded areas.
Expressing worry about the neglect of healthcare on the political agenda, Dr. Kluge emphasized the urgency of addressing the challenges faced by our health and care workers.
As healthcare systems face pressure, we are reminded of our lack of readiness for unexpected events, such as the appearance of a more dangerous COVID-19 strain or a previously unknown pathogen,” he cautioned, calling on leaders to visibly support healthcare workers.