Rising numbers of coronavirus cases in several European countries underline the need to uphold public health measures even though vaccinations are ongoing, the head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European office said on Thursday.
Hans Kluge of the Copenhagen-based agency also touched on the decision by several countries to temporarily suspend use of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca following reports of possible side effects.
“As of now, we do not know whether some or all of the conditions have been caused by the vaccine or by other coincidental factors. WHO is assessing the latest safety data … the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks – and its use should continue, to save lives,” he added.
Asked if the suspension could hamper vaccinations in general, Kluge told reporters that “in any vaccination campaign, it is crucial to have the trust” of the population.
This was achieved by “being transparent, showing empathy and being competent,” he said.
Given the uneven rate of vaccinations within the region, public health measures, social-distancing and tracing were also necessary.
The 53-country WHO European region has recorded almost 42 million cases, and there have been three consecutive weeks of rising cases.
The WHO regional chief cautioned that parts of the region that initially managed to control the virus have experienced very high infection rates, high numbers of hospital cases and deaths. Those include Central Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic states.
“Last week, new deaths in the region surpassed 900,000,” he said.