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The next wave of coronavirus in Europe – POLITICO

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The fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping across Europe, with few countries spared a worrying increase in cases.

It turns out that a full vaccination is necessary – but not sufficient – to contain the spread of the virus, which thrives in autumn and winter. Countries that had largely eased social distancing restrictions over the summer are now considering re-implementing measures to stem the tide of rising cases and hospitalizations.

Vaccination “solves part of the problem, but not all,” said Hajo Zeeb, professor of epidemiology at the University of Bremen. Although vaccination protects against infection, it is not foolproof. Equally worrying is that immunity is waning, leading countries to turn to booster shots. “I think even the public is realizing that it’s not over,” he said.

POLITICO calculated the figures on vaccinations, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the EU and UK. A smart approach to measures such as face mask requirements in crowded environments and vaccine “passports” is an important differentiator.

At one end of the spectrum, a group of countries have achieved high immunization rates of both their adult populations and older schoolchildren. Portugal, which has managed to reduce infections, hospitalizations and deaths to low levels, leads the class. At the other end are countries facing their worst epidemics since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. With only a fraction of their adult populations vaccinated, COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in Bulgaria and Romania, pushing their health systems towards the end. collapse.

Here is a list of the four groups:

Outperformers: The success of vaccination campaigns in countries like Portugal, Malta and Spain – where 80 percent or more of the population has been fully vaccinated – translates directly into very low new cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

Could do better: Countries like the UK, Germany and Austria have achieved vaccination rates of between 60% and 70%, which is not enough to prevent the increase in new cases. The easing of restrictions in the UK has also been a powerful driver of new infections.

Lagging behind: The three Baltic countries and some central European countries, such as Slovenia, experience some of the highest rates of daily new cases per million population. Vaccination rates in the region of 50% have left much of their population unprotected against the virus and hospitalizations and deaths are much higher than their western neighbors.

The Strugglers: The two countries that are most behind in immunization are Bulgaria and Romania. Overburdened health systems have contributed to the perfect storm for the current wave of the virus, which is seeing worrying levels of hospitalizations.

This is primarily an “epidemic of the unvaccinated,” Zeeb said. The numbers illustrate this with Outperformers having very few new cases per million people. The effectiveness of vaccination in preventing death is very reassuring. The StrugglersRomania and Bulgaria have the lowest share of fully vaccinated people and new daily deaths which far exceed any other country in the EU. These figures are reflected in hospitalization and intensive care occupancy. “The best preparation for the fourth wave would have been an effective vaccination campaign,” Ioana Mihăilă, former Romanian Minister of Health, told POLITICO.

“The whole of Europe is facing an increase in the pressure of the pandemic – in Eastern Europe, where the vaccination rate is much lower than in the West, the health impact is real and intense”, French Health Minister Olivier Véran told lawmakers on Tuesday. Elsewhere, climatic conditions and the spread of a more infectious subtype of the Delta variant of the coronavirus have been the source of infections, he added: “We have every reason to be vigilant” .

Zeeb fears that healthcare systems may not be able to cope with another wave. He said last year’s “extraordinary” situation could not be repeated as there were concerns that health systems would no longer be able to cope.

While vaccination is not a complete solution – it does not completely block transmission – it is now clear that it can prevent serious illness and death. Data from the UK, in particular, is reassuring. Britain has seen cases skyrocket, and although hospitalization rates are rising, they haven’t risen like they have in previous waves. In much of western Europe, where cases are increasing, it is a bit too early to tell if hospital admissions will tend to rise sharply. For now, hospitalizations are lagging behind new infections.

While new infections may be even higher than they were last fall and winter, they are “certainly not. [higher] on the hospitalization side, ”Zeeb said. “Which is the good news, which speaks to the effect of vaccinations.”

Young people are one of the main drivers of new infections. Deepti Gurdasani, epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, points out that when schools reopened in the UK, high levels of community transmission led to “explosive growth” in the number of cases.

Among the countries for which data are available, countries with few new cases, such as Portugal and Spain, also have vaccination rates above 30% among those under 18. The Struggling, Bulgaria and Romania, have rates that do not exceed 4%. Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Greece, in the Fall behind category, all have rates below 10 percent and also face large increases in infection.

Given the data on cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the overall immunization rates reinforce the importance for countries to achieve not only decent immunization levels, but rates exceeding 80%. As for what the future might bring, Zeeb sees the coronavirus ultimately evolving into an endemic situation in Europe. “Maybe when spring comes, which brings the numbers down anyway, we’ll do more vaccinations. [and] have probably evolved into herd immunity in some places, due to the vaccinations and infections that have taken place, ”he said.

This article is part of POLITICSThe premium police service: Pro Health Care. Whether it’s drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharmacy and more, our expert journalists keep you up to date on the topics that drive the political agenda in healthcare. E-mail [email protected] for a free trial.

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