Vaccination gathers pace in Europe amid new Covid-19 variants

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Geneva, Jan 13 (IANS) As concerns over new Covid-19 variants and high death toll from the pandemic linger in a large part of Europe, many European countries have pinned their hope of getting over the pathogen on vaccines, speeding up vaccination as a way out of the scourge.

“As we enter 2021, over 230 million people in the European Region are living in countries under full national lockdown, with more countries set to announce lockdown measures in the coming week,” World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said last week, Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

“We were prepared for a challenging start to 2021 and it has been just that,” he said.

Virus transmission across Europe has stayed at a very high rate. As of January 6, among all countries and territories in Europe, almost half had a seven-day incidence of over 150 new cases per 100,000 population, and one quarter were seeing a greater-than-ten-per cent increase in case incidence over the past two-week period, according to Kluge.

Meanwhile, 22 countries in the WHO European Region have detected a new coronavirus variant called B117, which, by the WHO’s assessment, may over time replace other circulating lineages, as seen in Britain and increasingly in Denmark.

Kluge said that while producing no significant changes so far to Covid-19, the new variant does raise alarm that without increased control to slow its spread, there will be an increased impact on the already strained health facilities.

As of 10 a.m. CET (0900 GMT) on Monday, WHO Regional Office for Europe recorded 29,032,605 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 630,282 deaths. The numbers of new confirmed cases and new deaths during the last seven days also stayed as high as over 1.8 million and over 35,800 respectively.

In an effort to curb the virus, many European countries have stepped up the pace of vaccination.

On behalf of the 27 European Union (EU) member states, the European Commission has negotiated agreements that could secure 760 million doses of two COVID-19 vaccines — one jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna — enough to vaccinate 380 million Europeans, more than 80 per cent of the European population.

In Britain where the new variant was discovered, more than 2.2 million people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to government figures released on Monday.

The British government announced on Monday that tens of millions of people will be immunized by the spring at over 2,700 vaccination sites across the country. An expansion of the vaccination program will make sure that all adults will be offered a vaccine by the autumn.

In France, more than 138,000 people had been vaccinated by Monday, said the country’s health minister. The government expects to receive 2.6 million doses by the end of this month.

France has been targeting the most vulnerable people at nursing homes in the first stage of vaccination. Under its three-stage campaign, the government aims to vaccinate one million vulnerable people at nursing homes by the end of January.

In Germany, a total of 613,347 people had received Covid-19 vaccines as of Monday, according to the country’s disease control agency. Priorities have been given to people aged over 80, people in elderly and care facilities, and frontline health care staff. The government has said that in the coming summer, it will be possible to make all its people vaccinated.

Spain had received 743,925 doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer vaccine by Sunday. However, storm Filomena left heavy snowfalls in many parts of Spain, closing Madrid airport and seeing rail connections cut for around 48 hours, which has interrupted the shipment of the doses.

Sweden had signed a fifth vaccine deal with German pharmaceutical company CureVac, according to the country’s national vaccine coordinator Richard Bergstrom. The deal will give Sweden access to a total of 4.5 million doses. Sweden also has agreements with other providers such as Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Janssen Pharmaceutica.

According to the Swedish Medical Products Agency, so far, 175,500 doses of vaccines have been delivered to Sweden, and currently about 40,000 vaccine doses have been vaccinated to its population.

Switzerland is also mounting up its vaccination efforts. Media reported that having received 233,000 doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer vaccine since December, the government has pre-ordered three million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 7.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 5.3 million doses of AstraZeneca.

According to the Swiss Federal Council, all willing residents of elderly homes should be vaccinated by end of January, while all residents aged more than 75 years old should be vaccinated by the end of February, and 70 per cent of people aged 65 and more should receive a dose of vaccine by the end of March.

–IANS

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