Experts say that an increase in COVID-19 in Europe serves as a warning to the United States about the continuing threat of the virus, even as many are ready to overcome the era of the pandemic.
Despite the European Union having a higher vaccination level than the US, parts of Europe saw a record number of coronavirus infections on Wednesday.
The surge in cases has prompted Austria to reimpose a lockdown, while Belgium has moved to straighten the rules, including a mask mandate amid its own surge, prompting protests.
No tough measures such as a lockdown, or something similar, are expected in the United States, where there is no appetite among the public, and the Biden administration has scrapped the idea.
But experts say the crisis in Europe shows that the virus remains a major threat, particularly anywhere there are unvaccinated people.
“If you have an unvaccinated population, the virus will find them,” said Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Safety.
Austria, which will be closed amid a large increase in cases and deaths, have 64.5 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, close to the European average, compared to 59 percent in the US.
“In places where there are similar or lower vaccination rates to Austria, I think there is definitely a risk that cases will increase,” said Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The risk is overwhelming among the unvaccinated. Updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that in September, unvaccinated people were 5.8 times more likely to test positive for the virus and 14 times more likely to die from it. of the.
Experts emphasize that the most important answer is to vaccinate more people. In the US, those efforts have met resistance, although the Biden administration is trying to break through with a variety of mandates.
Vaccine protection is also declining over time, leaving more people exposed to generally milder breakthrough cases. That has led to a push for all vaccinated American adults to receive booster shots.
“With large numbers of people not yet vaccinated and reduced vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild illness, many people are left vulnerable to the virus,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in explaining the rise of Europe and also pointing to the transmissibility of the delta variant and more people gathered inside after restrictions were relaxed.
The WHO warned that with current trends, Europe and Central Asia would see an additional 700,000 deaths from the virus, from 1.5 million to 2.2 million, by spring.
Adalja said the main step in keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed is getting more people to receive their initial doses of vaccine, as vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization. But he said that up to 80 percent of the population that is fully vaccinated may be needed to provide “resistance” against surges.
Michaud noted that within Europe, countries like Spain and Portugal with very high vaccination rates of more than 80 percent are improving.
Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, tweeted that Boosters would also help, pointing to UK data showing larger declines in hospital admissions among older age groups receiving boosters.
“The boosters (third injections) are working, as evidenced by the lower number of hospital admissions among the age groups that receive them,” he wrote.
While currently not as severe as in Europe, cases are on the rise in the US as well, and hospitals in some states are under stress again.
But the Biden administration is clear that it does not see a return to anything close to a lockdown in the US.
“We are not going in that direction,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator. Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsOvernight Health Care – Presented by Emergent Biosolutions – 2.6 million children vaccinated in the first two weeks White House: 10 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received their first injection The White House plans to increase vaccine production to 1 billion doses per year PLUS he said on Monday when asked about Austria. “We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic: widely available vaccines; booster injections; vaccines for children; therapies, including monoclonal antibodies to help those who contract the virus. “
The country is at a delicate moment in the response to COVID-19. Many people are fatigued from restrictions and anxious to get back to a normal life. Many experts also say that a point is approaching when the virus will be “endemic,” meaning it will fade more like a fact of life in the background rather than a crisis.
Children’s vaccines, as well as promising new antiviral treatments from Pfizer and Merck, can help bring that moment closer.
Washington, DC, this week officially lifted its mask mandate. The director of the DC department of health, LaQuandra Nesbitt, said: “We are learning to live with COVID.”
While it’s scrapping locks, the Biden administration still emphasizes the importance of masking mandates, even if most states have already left them behind.
CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle Walensky Israel begins vaccinating children 5-11 COVID-19 cases in children by up to 32 percent: Pediatricians Watch Live: White House COVID-19 Response Team Holds Press Conference MORE He said last week that his agency still recommends that areas have low levels of transmission for several weeks “before releasing the mask requirements.”
The continuing threat is also evident in surges within the US, such as Michigan, where hospitalizations are on the rise.
Michigan Hospital Officials warned this week in which the peak is “depleting or exceeding the capacity of emergency departments and hospitals across the state.”
Officials asked the public to get vaccinated, receive a booster dose and be careful around indoor events, including wearing masks.
“We can’t wait any longer for Michigan to correct course; we need your help now to end this increase and make sure our hospitals can serve all who need it, ”they said.