The World Health Organization's Europe regional chief on Tuesday urged governments not to mandate vaccines before initially reaching out to communities as 120,000 deaths have been reported in the region over the past month.
Dr. Hans Kluge told an online news conference that vaccinations should not be mandated without reaching out to the communities first.
“Mandates around vaccination are an absolute last resort and only applicable when all other feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted,” said Kluge.
Compulsory vaccination "must be supported by appropriate policy considerations, a comprehensive implementation plan, including provisions for exemptions, and a strong communications component for the population," he noted.
"Ultimately, mandates should never contribute to increasing social inequalities in access to health and social services," Kluge added.
He recalled that he issued an alert last month that a further half a million lives could be lost by early 2022 unless urgent action is taken.
“A month has passed now, and a further 120,000 people have died, and the region has added another 10 million COVID-19 cases to its tally,” said Kluge.
“By the end of this week, one in 10 people across the Europe and Central Asia region will have had COVID-19 infection, confirmed by laboratory testing.”
Kluge said that reaching the end of the year and with “the festive season” approaching in the European region, the total number of reported deaths due to COVID-19 has reached “a high plateau,” close to 4,100 daily, doubling from 2,100 at the end of September.
- European region sees 1.5M fatalities
Cumulative reported deaths from COVID-19 passed 1.5 million two weeks ago for the 53 countries in the WHO’s European region, which extends from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East.
Case notification rates have increased across all age groups, with the highest rates in the 5-14 age group.
While the caseload had more than doubled in the past two months, COVID-19 fatalities had remained significantly below previous peaks.
“Thus, the mortality would have been far worse without vaccination,” said Kluge.
He said that 55% of all people in Europe and Central Asia are fully vaccinated, and 43 out of 53 countries now offer an additional booster dose to their most vulnerable populations.
On children, he said: "The use of masks and ventilation, and regular testing, should be a standard at all primary schools and vaccinating children should be discussed and considered nationally, as part of school protection measure. Vaccination of younger children not only reduces their role in COVID-19 transmission but also protects them from pediatric severity, whether associated with long-COVID or Multi System Inflammatory Syndromes. "
Kluge said the delta variant of the coronavirus remains dominant across Europe and Central Asia.
“We know that the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in reducing severe disease and deaths from it.
“It is yet to be seen how and whether the latest COVID-19 variant of concern, omicron, will be more transmissible or more or less severe,” he added.
As of Dec. 6, there were 432 confirmed cases of the omicron variant in WHO Europe region countries.
Research conducted by WHO Europe and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has found that from December 2020 to November 2021, at least 470,000 lives were directly saved through COVID-19 vaccination, Kluge also noted.