Europe is already entering a new wave of COVID-19, according to a joint statement released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Control.
“We are unfortunately seeing indicators rising again in Europe, suggesting that another wave of infections has begun,” wrote Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of the ECDC.
Cases reported weekly in Europe began to rise in September, according to the most recent regional data for Europe from the WHO’s COVID-19 dashboard. In the week ending September 4, Europe recorded 1.14 million new cases and in the week ending October 2, weekly cases were just over 1.79 million.
“There is a slight increase in most of Europe, certainly in Germany and Italy,” Dr. Jennifer Lighter, pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone, said today. The new wave may be concerning, but it’s not entirely surprising. “We expect (COVID-19) to eventually enter an endemic seasonal pattern that would peak in winter,” Lighter added.
However, the new wave of COVID in Europe may foreshadow what is to come in the United States
“We’ve seen with other waves or bumps that they often start in Europe and then come to the United States,” Lighter said, adding that it usually happens within two to three weeks.
In addition to cases, hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have also increased in recent weeks in Europe, according to Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease physician and professor of public health, epidemiology and medicine at Yale School. of Public Health. . These hospitalizations increase among people over 65 who are more vulnerable, Ko added.
The omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants still make up the majority of these cases, Lighter said, although other variants are emerging around the world, such as BA2.75, which is more transmissible and less susceptible to antivirals and vaccines. . “We don’t really see the BA2.75 variant take hold yet,” Lighter said.
“This wave, I believe, is driven by increased exposures and contact rates, rather than the introduction of a new variant,” Ko said. This is not unexpected, Ko noted, because the restrictions such as masks and social distancing have been phased out as people gather and travel more and children return to school. “We’re releasing a lot of these things that protected us (during the pandemic),” Ko said.
Low COVID-19 vaccination rates (for the primary series and boosters), especially among children, are also an issue, Ko added.
“A lot of the factors that are contributing to this wave in Europe are also present here in the United States…so I would be concerned if something like that is already happening here,” Ko said.
Just three weeks ago, President Biden declared the “pandemic over” in the United States, TODAY previously reported.
“Emotionally, we think it’s over, but it’s not — 300 to 400 people die every day in the United States… That’s a lot, and it’s going to get even higher,” Lighter said.
“The numbers here in the United States show that we’re kind of at the bottom of the curve…but that doesn’t mean transmission isn’t happening,”
“The ‘pandemic phase’ where our healthcare system was overwhelmed – we’ve moved past that, but we’re now in an endemic phase where this virus is going to continue to be with us. … We need to stay on our toes,” said today Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Vaccination is crucial, experts noted, especially among vulnerable populations. “We have the tools to protect ourselves, we just need to use those tools more,” Lighter said, adding that only 67% of the population is fully immunized. “Only a third of people over 50 received their second booster, and only half of people over 5 received a booster,” she added.
As the dominant strains in circulation are still BA.4 and BA.5, the updated booster remains effective, the experts added. “The good news is that the uptick is for a variant that we actually have a targeted vaccine for,” Lighter added.
The updated bivalent booster, which targets omicron variants, is currently recommended for everyone age 5 and older, the CDC announced Oct. 12. Earlier today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech booster for children ages 5 to 11, and the Moderna booster for children as young as 6 years old.
It’s important to remember that while these vaccines don’t have a large effect on transmission, they do prevent serious illness, complications, hospitalizations and deaths, Ko noted. we’re heading into winter and other viruses start circulating at higher levels.
Children’s hospitals across the country have already filled up due to an unprecedented rise in respiratory viruses such as RSV, enterovirus and rhinovirus, TODAY previously reported.
“We’re also anticipating that we’re going to have a very quick flu season, so we’re concerned it’s going to be a twindemic winter,” Schaffner said, adding that flu cases are already starting to rise in the United States.
Now is the time to get a flu shot, experts noted, which is recommended for anyone 6 months and older. Ideally, you get your flu shot by the end of October, but it can still protect you if you get it later in the season, TODAY previously reported.
In addition to getting vaccinated, experts stressed the importance of mitigation measures like wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home when sick.
“Older adults, who have underlying conditions (such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes) and anyone with a compromised immune system should continue to wear a mask when going indoors or in the crowd,” Schaffner said.
“A lot of people would like to put COVID in the rearview mirror so to speak. … We have to be firm and careful,” Schaffner said, adding that people who have vulnerable family members or are caring for high-risk people should also take extra precautions.
“People are tired of all these restrictions, so the key question is, how many people (are) willing to do to protect themselves and others?” Ko said.
This article originally appeared on TODAY.com