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Europe gets painful lesson

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As Western Europe’s vaccination rollout gained strength in the early part of 2021, many of the region’s leaders touted the shots as their immediate route out of the pandemic.

Press conferences took on an almost celebratory tone as Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chancellors announced road maps away from Covid-19 restrictions, hailing their country’s uptake rates and speaking colorfully about a return to normalcy.

But as another Covid-struck winter grips Europe, many of those countries are now reversing course.

Ireland introduced a midnight curfew on the hospitality industry earlier this week amid a surge in cases, despite having one of Europe’s best vaccination rates. In Portugal — the envy of the continent, where 87% of the total population is inoculated — the government is mulling new measures as infections inch upwards.

Britain has meanwhile endured a lengthy and stubborn wave of infections despite its Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, often trumpeting the country’s early lead in administering jabs. And in the Netherlands new restrictions have come into force, prompting protests that turned violent in Rotterdam on Friday night.

This is all taking place despite one central fact remaining true — the vaccines are working, and working well.

Some might wonder how both things can be true. But as nations are discovering, even a relatively strong vaccination rate is not enough alone to stop the spread of Covid-19 — and warning signs from Germany and Austria, where infections have skyrocketed in recent weeks — show the dangers of complacency. Austria will enter a total national lockdown on Monday, just days after it imposed a lockdown on unvaccinated people.

The vaccine “continues to provide very good protection — the immunity against severe disease and death is very well maintained,” Charles Bangham, a professor of immunology and the co-director of Imperial College London’s Institute of Infection, told CNN.

“But we know that the Delta variant is very much more infectious,” he said. “At the same time, there have been changes in society and behavior … and in many countries, some of the precautions are being less stringently observed.”

To put it simply, when it comes to stopping transmission, even a very good vaccination rate isn’t always good enough.

“Vaccinations help,” said Ralf Reintjes, professor of epidemiology and public health surveillance at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany. “They’re one stone in the process of stopping the virus. But it’s not strong enough alone.” BBC

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