ECDC statement: Risk of very high COVID-19 burden unless public health measures are applied urgently
Statement by Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director.
Recent modelling scenarios run by ECDC indicate that the potential burden of disease in the EU/EEA from the Delta variant will be very high in December and January unless public health measures are applied now in combination with continued efforts to increase vaccine uptake in the total population.
Since the beginning of the year, we have seen a rapid roll-out of vaccination programmes in the EU/EEA that has successfully averted deaths and had reduced hospitalisations and transmission. But there are still sub-populations and age groups in which coverage remains lower than desired, even in countries that have achieved good overall vaccination coverage. There are still too many individuals at risk of severe COVID-19 infection whom we need to protect as soon as possible. We need to urgently focus on closing this immunity gap, offer booster doses to all adults, and reintroduce non-pharmaceutical measures.
Currently, less than 70 per cent of the overall population in the EU/EEA have been fully vaccinated. This leaves a large vaccination gap that cannot be bridged rapidly and gives ample room for the virus to spread.
Because vaccines offer high protection against severe outcomes of COVID-19 infection, the forecasts are showing that a large number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions will be unvaccinated individuals, in particular unvaccinated individuals in risk groups. The current overall level of vaccination uptake in the EU/EEA will therefore be insufficient to limit the burden of COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations over the winter months, and countries with lower levels of vaccination are at higher risk.
Increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage in all eligible age groups, but particularly the elderly, the vulnerable, and healthcare workers should remain the priority for public health authorities. Europe must close immunity gaps in the adult population and ensure effective and equitable coverage across countries and regions.
Countries should also consider a booster dose for all adults 18 years and older, with a priority for people above 40 years old. This is to increase protection against infection due to waning immunity which could potentially reduce the transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalisations and deaths. The booster dose is recommended six months after completing the primary schedule at the earliest.
Rolling out vaccination programmes takes time and the full effect of vaccines only comes two weeks after vaccination. As there is some evidence of waning vaccines effectiveness over time against infection and transmission, it is also important to maintain or reintroduce non-pharmaceutical interventions.
Motivating people to follow these measures is even more important as we move towards winter and the festive season when more people will travel and gather indoors.
I am aware that it requires a significant effort from public health authorities and society at large to achieve this goal. But now is the time to walk the extra mile. We have safe and effective vaccines available and until a larger part of the eligible population is immunised, non-pharmaceutical interventions must continue to remain part of our daily routine.
- Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director