Covid vaccination rates ‘plummeting’
In several European countries, the United States and other parts of the world, there have been reports of rising hospitalisations linked to respiratory infections in recent weeks
Covid-19 and flu cases are increasing rapidly
LOW vaccination rates against the latest versions of Covid-19 and influenza are putting pressure on healthcare systems this winter, leading public health officials have said.
In several European countries, the United States and other parts of the world, there have been reports of rising hospitalisations linked to respiratory infections in recent weeks. Death rates have also ticked up among older adults in some regions, but were still far below than at the peak of the Covid pandemic.
Spain’s government has reinstated mask-wearing requirements at healthcare facilities, as have some US hospital networks.
“Too many people are in need of serious medical care for flu, for Covid, when we can prevent it,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s interim director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness.
She cited “incredibly low” vaccination rates against flu and Covid in many countries this season, as the world tries to move past the pandemic and its restrictions.
Governments have struggled to communicate the risks still posed by Covid and the benefits of vaccination since a global public health emergency was declared over in May 2023, infectious disease experts said.
In Europe, flu is circulating at a higher rate than Covid, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said. In total, 24 per cent of a representative sample of tests came back positive in the last week of 2023, up from 19 per cent a fortnight earlier.
The rates are in line with previous flu seasons, said ECDC’s respiratory virus expert Edoardo Colzani. However, he warned that “now we have Covid-19 as a new, unwanted guest”.
The ECDC did not have vaccination rates for the continent for flu or Covid, but Colzani said early data showed Covid vaccine uptake well below pandemic levels.
In Europe, the new Covid shots are recommended for high-risk groups only, such as seniors and the immunocompromised.
Among these groups, the WHO says there should be 100 per cent coverage. Covid rates are also rising in the southern hemisphere during summer, the WHO said, because it has not yet developed into a seasonal virus.
Last month, 850,000 new Covid cases and 118,000 new hospitalisations were reported globally, a rise of 52 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, from November, according to the WHO, which added that actual figures were likely higher.