Vaccination campaigns in Europe are "still too slow" amid more transmissible variants, the World Health Organisation's European regional director said, emphasising that speed continued to be essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hans Kluge said in an interview with AFP that "the pandemic will be over when we have reached a minimum vaccination coverage of 70%," deploring what he said were "still too slow" vaccination campaigns.
Europe has increased its vaccinations over the past months, with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine given to roughly 41% of adults the EU and EEA, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
There was a median of 18.6% of adults fully vaccinated, the ECDC said.
In the 53 territories of the European region according to WHO criteria, only 26% of the population has received a first dose of vaccine, according to AFP.
"In a pandemic, speed is essential," Kluge said, adding that this is what was lacking at the beginning of the epidemic.
"Even when the WHO declared a pandemic, many countries were still waiting, we wasted precious time," Kluge told AFP.
He warned that the B.1.617 variant that was first identified in India is even more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom.
The variant that emerged in the UK was largely responsible for the need for tougher lockdowns across Europe earlier in 2021.
Kluge said he was concerned that "people let their guard down and become unreasonable, and think that because they have received the first or even the second dose of vaccine, the pandemic is over."
"We must finally give the red card to COVID-19, don't give it additional time, let's be careful," Kluge warned.
Still today, "time is against us...We must accelerate (the immunisation campaign). We must increase the number of vaccines," he said, specifying that the WHO was continuing its study of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and a Chinese vaccine.
The WHO is also calling for more solidarity between countries within the European zone.
"It is not acceptable that some countries start immunising the youngest and fittest part of their population, while other countries in our region still do not (immunise) all health workers and most vulnerable people," he said.