(REUTERS) — A new wave of Covid-19 appears to be brewing in Europe as the cold weather approaches, and public health experts warn that vaccine stress and confusion about the types of vaccines available will likely limit the uptake of boosters.
The BA.4/5 sub-variants of Omicron that dominated this summer are still behind the majority of infections, but the new Omicron sub-variants are gaining ground. Scientists have tracked down hundreds of new forms of omicron, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said this week.
WHO data released late on Wednesday showed cases in the European Union reached 1.5 million last week, up 8% from the previous week, despite a drastic drop in testing. Globally, the number of cases continues to decline.
Hospitalization figures in many bloc of 27 countries, as well as Britain, have risen in recent weeks.
In the week ending October 4, hospital admissions for symptomatic covid-19 rose nearly 32% in Italy, while admissions to intensive care rose about 21%, compared to the previous week, according to data compiled by the Gimbe Independent Science Foundation.
During the same week, hospitalizations for covid-19 in the UK increased by 45% compared to the previous week.
Vaccines adapted to the omicron variant are available in Europe from September, with two types of injections available that address the BA.1 and BA.4/5 subvariants, alongside existing first-generation vaccines. In the UK, only vaccines adapted to the BA.1 subvariant are licensed.
European and British authorities have approved the latest booster shots only for a select group of people, including the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Further complicating matters is the “choice” of the vaccine as a booster, which is likely to add to the confusion, according to public health experts.
But the will to receive another vaccine, which could be the fourth or fifth for some, is wearing thin.
“For those who are less concerned about their risk, the message that it’s all over, coupled with the lack of a major advertising campaign, is likely to reduce uptake,” said Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the School of Hygiene and London Tropical Medicine. “So overall I’m afraid the uptake will be quite a bit lower.”
false sense of security
Penny Ward, Visiting Professor of Pharmaceutical Medicine at King’s College London, said: “Another confounding factor is that a fairly high proportion of the population may have also had a Covid episode in recent months.”
Some may mistakenly think that the fact that they have received the primary vaccination schedule and have been infected with covid-19 implies that they will continue to be immune, he added.
Since September 5, the date on which the deployment of the new vaccines began in the European Union, some 40 million doses of vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have been delivered to the Member States, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
However, weekly doses of vaccines administered in the EU were only between 1 million and 1.4 million during the month of September, compared to 6-10 million weekly in the previous period, according to ECDC data.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to acceptance is the perception that the pandemic is over, which creates a false sense of security.
“There must be some lack of concern in the sense that life seems to be back to normal, at least as far as Covid is concerned, and people now have other financial and war-related concerns,” said Adam Finn, President of ETAGE, an expert group that advises the WHO on vaccine-preventable diseases in Europe.
Finn added that some lawmakers aren’t doing their part, either.
Italy’s scientific foundation Gimbe said the government, soon to be replaced after an election, was ill-prepared for the autumn-winter season, noting that a publication on the government’s handling of the pandemic had been blocked.
The Health Ministry declined to comment.
Meanwhile, UK authorities warned last week that the new flu circulation and resurgence of Covid-19 could increase pressure on the already overwhelmed National Health Service.