Experts say a COVID-19 rise in Europe serves as a warning to the United States of the continuing threat from the virus, though many are ready to move past the pandemic.
Despite the EU having a higher level of vaccination than the US, parts of Europe experienced a record number of coronavirus infections on Wednesday.
The rise in cases has led Austria to reintroduce a blockade, while Belgium has moved to correct the rules, including a masked mandate in the midst of its own wave, which sparked protests.
Tough measures such as a lockdown or something similar are not expected in the United States, where there is no appetite among the public and the Biden administration has rejected the idea.
But experts say Europe’s crisis shows the virus remains a major threat, especially where there are unvaccinated people.
“If you have an unvaccinated population, the virus will find them,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Austria, which is on the brink of collapse in the event of a large increase in cases and deaths, has 64.5 percent of its population fully vaccinated, close to the European average, compared to 59 percent in the United States
“In places where you have Austrian-like vaccination rates or lower, I definitely think the risk is there for cases to increase,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The risk is predominantly among the unvaccinated. Updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show 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.
Experts stress that the most important answer is to get more people vaccinated. In the United States, these efforts have met with resistance, although the Biden administration is trying to break through with a series of mandates.
The protection against the vaccines also decreases over time, leaving more people exposed to generally milder breakthrough cases. It has led to a push to get booster shots for all vaccinated American adults.
“With a large number of people still unvaccinated and reduced vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild disease, many people are left vulnerable to the virus,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said to explain Europe’s rise, while also pointing out on to the transferability of the delta variant and more people gathered inside after the restrictions were eased.
The WHO warned that with current trends, Europe and Central Asia will see another 700,000 deaths from the virus, from 1.5 million to 2.2 million, by spring.
Adalja said the most important step to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed is to get more people to their initial vaccine doses, as the vaccines are extremely effective against hospitalization. But he said as much as 80 percent of the population that is fully vaccinated could be needed to provide “resilience” against increases.
Michaud noted that within Europe, countries such as Spain and Portugal with very high vaccination rates above 80 percent do better.
Eric Topol, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research, tweeted it boosters would also help, pointing to data from the UK showing greater declines in hospital admissions among older age groups receiving boosters.
“Boosters (3rd shot) work, as seen by fewer hospital admissions among the age groups receiving them,” he wrote.
Although currently not as bad as in Europe, cases are also on the rise in the US, and hospitals in some states are again stressed.
But the Biden administration is aware that it does not see a return to anything close to a lockdown in the United States
“We are not heading in that direction,” said 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 The White House: 10 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received the first shot in the White House planning to increase vaccine production to 1 billion doses a year MORE said on Monday when asked about Austria. “We have the tools to speed the way out of this pandemic: widely available vaccinations; booster shots; children’s shots; therapeutic agents, including monoclonal antibodies, to help those who get the virus.”
The country is in a delicate moment in the COVID-19 reaction. Many people are tired of restrictions and eager to return to a normal life. Many experts also say that a point is approaching where the virus will be “endemic”, meaning that it will disappear into more of a fact in the background rather than a crisis.
Vaccinations for children, as well as promising new antiviral treatments from Pfizer and Merck, can help bring that moment closer.
Washington, DC, officially lifted its mask mandate this week. DC Health Department Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said, “We’re learning to live with COVID.”
While rejecting lockdowns, the Biden administration still stresses the importance of mask mandates, even though most states have already left them.
CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyIsrael begins vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 COVID-19 cases in children up 32 percent: pediatricians Watch live: The White House COVID-19 response team holds news briefing MORE said last week that her agency still recommends that areas have low levels of transmission for several weeks “before releasing mask requirements.”
The continuing threat is also evident in increases in the United States, such as in Michigan, where hospitalizations are rising.
Michigan hospital officials warned this week that the increase “exacerbates or exceeds the capacity of emergency departments and hospitals across the state.”
Officials urged the public to get vaccinated, get a booster dose and exercise caution with indoor events, including wearing masks.
“We can no longer wait for Michigan to change course; we need your help now to stop this increase and ensure that our hospitals can take care of everyone who needs it,” they said.