The WHO once again warns Europe as winter approaches. The Organization stressed on Monday the need not to lower our guard at a time when the cases of Covid-19 and influenza are increasing on the continent, summoning the example of polio to justify the usefulness of vaccination.
“Now is not the time to slack off,” World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge told an online press conference.
A new wave of Covid-19
At the start of the fall, the European region, which includes 53 countries including some in Central Asia, was again the epicenter of the epidemic, accounting for 60% of new cases of Covid-19 in the world. At the same time, a peak in seasonal flu cases was recorded.
With this new wave of Covid-19, deaths and admissions to intensive care are only increasing slightly, the WHO stressed, emphasizing the link with vaccination. “Vaccination remains one of our most effective tools against influenza and Covid 19,” explained Hans Kluge on World Polio Day.
This disease, which mainly strikes the very young and causes paralysis, has practically disappeared in the Western world, but a variant of the poliovirus derived from oral vaccines has recently been detected in the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Israel and New York. Less virulent than the natural virus, this variant can however cause serious symptoms, such as paralysis of the limbs of unvaccinated patients. Rare, this variant has become more common in recent years due to low vaccination rates in some communities.
Delays in polio vaccine coverage
“All over the world, if we leave people behind, the polio virus is a very good barometer to tell us who they are,” said WHO Europe expert Siddhartha Datta. “These are underserved population groups because, for one reason or another, they have not been covered by the WHO recommendation of 95% (vaccination) coverage.”
No case of the naturally occurring polio virus has been reported in Europe for over twenty years. But across the region, coverage with the third dose of polio vaccine declined by 1% between 2019 and 2020. By 2021, only 25 of 53 countries had reached the polio vaccine coverage rate of 95. %.
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