The EUâ€™s disease control agency has called for swifter vaccination in Europe as the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid is forecast to account for 90% of all cases in member states by the end of August.
Dr Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said people who have had a single jab were still at risk of infection and hospitalisation, with the variant likely to spread widely among young people this summer.
In a sombre statement at a time when many EU countries are looking to relax restrictions and facilitate travel through a Covid passport, Ammon said there remained too many people in the more vulnerable age groups in the union who were not fully vaccinated.
The ECDCâ€™s modelling suggests that without maintenance of the current Covid restrictions and a sharp acceleration in vaccination, there is likely to be a wave of infection, deaths and hospitalisation similar to that experienced last autumn.
Ammon asked in her statement for younger people who may not have received their full complement of jabs to strictly keep to social distancing regulations, and she called on the EUâ€™s public health authorities to save lives by accelerating their vaccination programmes.
The ECDCâ€™s latest published data suggests that 33.9% of adults in the EU/EEA are fully vaccinated, and 57.1% have had at least a single dose.
â€œThe Delta variant is more transmissible than other circulating variants and we estimate that by the end of August it will represent 90% of all Sars-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the European Union,â€ Ammon said. â€œUnfortunately, preliminary data shows that it can also infect individuals that have received only one dose of the currently available vaccines.
â€œIt is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination. This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.â€
Ammon, a former adviser to the German government, said the positive news was that two doses of all the available vaccines in Europe provided â€œhigh protection against this variant and its consequences. However, about 30% of individuals older than 80 years and about 40% of individuals older than 60 years have not yet received a full vaccination course in the European Union.â€
The Delta variant, which has slowed down the UKâ€™s reopening, is believed to be 40% to 60% more transmissible than the original virus and is thought to be associated with higher risk of hospitalisation.
The ECDCâ€™s modelling suggests 70% of new Covid infections will be due to this variant in European economic area by early August and 90% of infections by the end of that month.
The EU agency has further modelled that a 50% reduction in non-pharmaceutical interventions by September, such as permitting the staging of large events, will lead to an increase of infection across all age groups.
Ammon said the variant put the cumulative efforts to control the pandemic at risk and required â€œimmediate actionsâ€ from national authorities.
She said: â€œThere are still too many individuals at risk of severe Covid-19 infection whom we need to protect as soon as possible. Until most of the vulnerable individuals are protected, we need to keep the circulation of the Delta virus low by strictly adhering to public health measures, which worked for controlling the impact of other variants.
â€œIt is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace. At this stage it becomes crucial that the second vaccination dose is administered within the minimum authorised interval from the first dose, to speed up the rate at which vulnerable individuals become protected.â€
Ammon added: â€œI am aware that it requires a significant effort from public health authorities and the society at large to achieve this goal. â€œBut now is the time to walk the extra mile. We have several safe and effective vaccines available and every single infection prevented now through our compliance with public health measures, is a life that can be saved by vaccination.â€