“Although we are not where we were one year ago, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over. We are unfortunately seeing indicators rising again in Europe, suggesting that another wave of infections has begun. With the arrival of autumn and winter, the resurgence of influenza can also be expected. In light of this, we reconfirm the need to protect people’s health, especially the most vulnerable, using all the available tools, including vaccination. Preparedness measures need to continue in the European Region, we should not let our guard down.
The potential co-circulation of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza will put vulnerable people at increased risk of severe illness and death, with the likelihood of increased pressure on both hospitals and healthcare workers, already exhausted from almost three years on the frontlines of the pandemic. We need to avoid the burden of this co-circulation on our healthcare systems. Together with public health measures, vaccination remains one of our most effective tools against both viruses. We urge countries in the European region to prioritise protecting the most vulnerable groups by co-administering influenza and COVID-19 vaccines whenever feasible.
Millions of people across the Region have still not been vaccinated against COVID-19. European countries should make every effort to reach the unvaccinated, making sure that they get their COVID-19 vaccine doses whilst also rolling out booster doses to priority groups, in line with national recommendations. Many of those most at risk of severe COVID-19 are also at high risk of experiencing a serious influenza infection. It is important that the following priority groups get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19: healthcare workers, people over 60 years old, pregnant women and those with comorbidities and/or underlying conditions.
The Southern Hemisphere, where winter recently ended, experienced an early and highly active influenza season. While we do not know exactly what to expect in the WHO European Region, we may see a similar scenario in the Northern Hemisphere during autumn and leading into winter. This means we need to be ready and act now. Our message is simple: vaccination saves lives. It decreases chances of being infected and reduces the risk of severe consequences from COVID-19 and seasonal influenza. There is no time to lose. We encourage everyone eligible, especially the most vulnerable, to come forward as soon as possible for both COVID-19 and influenza vaccination”.
To help countries prepare their response to a likely increase of COVID-19 and influenza in the coming months, the Commission published a Communication on preparing for autumn and winter 2022-2023. WHO/Europe also issued strategy recommendations to protect the most vulnerable. Together, the documents call on countries across the European region, which covers 53 countries across Europe and Central Asia, to relaunch mitigation efforts and be ready to respond to an increased burden on their healthcare systems.
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