The European Commission said on Wednesday that between 60 and 80 percent of Europe’s population have been infected with COVID-19.
European Union governments should step up vaccination of children against COVID-19, the bloc’s executive body has said, also signaling that it is considering developing antivirals.
“It is estimated that between 60 and 80% of the EU population have already had COVID,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told a news conference.
The EU’s public health agency said reported cases so far covered around 30% of Europe’s population, but if unreported infections were added, cases could rise to 350 million, or around 77% of the European population.
With a recent drop in COVID-19 infections and deaths, the EU is now moving away from mass testing and reporting of cases, Kyriakides said.
But further outbreaks of COVID-19 are likely as the virus is expected to continue to mutate, and so countries should have plans in place to return to emergency mode, the commission said.
More than half of the US population has been infected: study
The commission’s comments follow a US national blood survey released on Tuesday, which estimated that 58% of the US population as a whole and more than 75% of young children have been infected with the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
The study, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marks the first time that more than half of the US population has been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus at least once. Before Omicron arrived in late 2021, one-third of the US population had evidence of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The scientists looked for specific antibodies produced in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that are only present after infection and are not generated by COVID-19 vaccines. Traces of these antibodies can remain in the blood for up to two years.
Comparable national data for Canada is not yet readily available, but researchers in British Columbia have analyzed thousands of blood samples in the Lower Mainland throughout the pandemic to track antibody levels in the general population and saw a massive change in the level of infection as Omicron and its variants outperformed other variants to a staggering degree.
British Columbia data, provided in advance to CBC News, found nearly 40% of the population had antibodies from a previous infection in March, up from about 10% in October.
Dr Danuta Skowronski, a vaccine effectiveness expert and head of epidemiology at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control who led the research, told CBC News that the research found that nearly two-thirds of children under 10 years of age had evidence of previous infection.
In Ontario, official estimates now show that up to 40% of the population has been infected with COVID-19 since December alone.
Concerns about collecting accurate data
Timely data collection has become a concern in many countries, including Canada. Since the start of the Omicron variant, Canadian provinces and territories have reduced access to PCR testing, citing lack of capacity to meet demand and the need to free up healthcare resources.
Although wastewater monitoring provides important data, it is less useful in detecting emerging trends.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, on Tuesday urged countries to maintain surveillance of coronavirus infections, saying the emerging situation “makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution. “.
Bill Rodriguez, chief executive of FIND, a global aid group working with the WHO on expanding access to testing, said “testing rates have dropped by 70-90%”.
Stressed childhood vaccinations
On Wednesday, the commission urged European governments to continue pushing for the vaccination of unvaccinated people, especially children, before the start of the new school term in the fall.
Vaccinating eligible children against the coronavirus has been a struggle for many developed countries, with most North American and European countries beginning their childhood vaccination campaigns between November and January.
Vaccination rates are below 15% among European children aged 5 to 9, the youngest age group for which COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized there. In the United States, 28% of children aged 5 to 11 on April 20 were considered fully vaccinated, with 35% having received at least one dose.
Canada has done better than most Western countries in vaccinating the youngest eligible children, but federal and provincial health officials have said they would like to see the rate increase even more. According to Health Canada, nearly 41% of Canadian children aged 5 to 11 are fully immunized and 56% have received at least one dose.
As the transmissibility of Omicron has seen the public health focus shift more and more towards preventing hospitalizations and serious consequences, as opposed to outright preventing infections, antivirals are also increasingly gaining of interest.
Antiviral pills against COVID-19 developed by Pfizer and Merck & Co have been approved for use in Canada, the United States and the EU. But their adoption has so far been limited in the West, for a variety of reasons, including the slowing of the pandemic, high prices and some confusion over eligibility and how to prescribe them.
The administration of US President Joe Biden aims to expand access to oral COVID-19 antiviral treatments like Pfizer’s Paxlovid by doubling the number of places where they are available, the White House announced on Tuesday, with a focus on pharmacies.