With the Coronavirus vaccine rollout all over Europe lagging way behind the UK, US and several other non-EU countries, the bloc’s strategy has been the subject of increasing criticism in recent weeks.
The UK has vaccinated well over half of its population while the situation in France is so bad that the country, along with Belgium, has been forced to enter another lockdown.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has now also criticised Europe’s “unacceptably slow” vaccine rollout and said the region's surge in Coronavirus infections was “worrying.”
A WHO statement on Thursday said, “Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic. However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow and is prolonging the pandemic.”
“We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now.”
Europe's rising cases of Coronavirus is, says the WHO, “more worrying than we have seen in several months.”
“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic. However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow and is prolonging the pandemic”
Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but “last week saw increasing transmission of COVID-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases,” it said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had not yet identified any risk factors such as age, sex or a previous history of blood clotting disorders, for clotting cases reported after inoculation with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.
The EMA said that the vaccine's benefits outweigh the risks but, in a briefing, it added that investigations were still ongoing.
The agency said, “At present the review has not identified any specific risk factors, such as age, gender or a previous medical history of clotting disorders, for these very rare events. A causal link with the vaccine is not proven but is possible and further analysis is continuing.”
Germany and France are among those to suspend use of the vaccine for those under 60 and 50 years old respectively.
Germany's medical regulator it had received 31 reports of rare blood clots in recent recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nine died and all but two of the cases involved women aged 20 to 63.
Meanwhile, Council President Charles Michel has warned of the likelihood of further pandemics.
He said, “The next pandemic is not a question of “if”, but “when”. So we must be ready. We have no time to waste. COVID-19 has been a harsh reminder – no one is safe until everyone is safe.”