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These are the 5 things needed to stabilize the pandemic in Europe, WHO expert says

A health service worker draws up a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through vaccination center in northwest England on Monday. Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, says increased vaccinations and boosters are a necessary element to stabilize the pandemic across the continent.
Paul Ellis
/
AFP via Getty Images
A health service worker draws up a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through vaccination center in northwest England on Monday. Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, says increased vaccinations and boosters are a necessary element to stabilize the pandemic across the continent.

Omicron is hitting Europe like a tidal wave, moving west to east, and is likely to infect half of all Europeans by March, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Hans Kluge is the WHO regional director for Europe and said while omicron cases were expected to peak in mid-January, it would vary between countries, with the Balkans just now starting to feel the worst of it.

Because omicron spreads so easily, Kluge said the strategy in Europe was shifting from reducing transmission to shielding the most vulnerable and avoiding disruption of the economy, schools and health care.

Kluge says while there is still a huge amount of uncertainty with the pandemic, he has identified what he calls five pandemic stabilizers:

  • Increasing vaccine uptake
  • Administering a booster
  • Doubling the rate of mask-wearing indoors
  • Ventilating crowded spaces
  • Adopting rigorous therapeutic protocols for severe cases
  • In order to better understand how people are thinking about public health issues like COVID, the WHO established a unit to study the behavioral and cultural science driving decision making. Kluge said the group found that the percentage of people who don't want to be vaccinated is "quite small."

    "Most of the people, they're sitting on the fence," Kluge said. "They have questions and, frankly speaking, legitimate questions. So there is communication. And to tailor our approaches community by community is really crucial."

    U.S. dealing with its own spike in cases

    Just as Europe is trying to lessen the impact that omicron will have there, the U.S. is also coming to terms with the variant that has caused surges across the country and further strained medical systems.

    Last Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration noted that "most people are going to get COVID." Woodcock's comment came before lawmakers as she spoke about the need to make sure hospitals and other essential services could continue to operate and pivot to an approach specifically for the omicron variant.

    People are seen wearing masks on a metro train in Copenhagen. Another one of Dr. Kluge's pandemic stabilizers is doubling the amount of people wearing masks indoors.
    Olafur Steinar Gestsson / Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images
    /
    Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images
    People are seen wearing masks on a metro train in Copenhagen. Another one of Dr. Kluge's pandemic stabilizers is doubling the amount of people wearing masks indoors.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest guidelines for COVID-positive people includes lowering the number of days in isolation from 10 to five. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky spoke about the recommendations last week on ABC's Good Morning America where she also mentioned a recent study that showed the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine in preventing severe cases and death.

    However, when Good Morning America originally aired the clip it was edited in a way that made Walensky seem encouraged by the fact that the majority of the deaths in the 1.2 million people involved in the study were those who had four or more comorbidities.

    Despite the unedited version of the interview being added to the website later, Walensky's comments set off outrage among disability rights advocates. That prompted a meeting between Walensky and some of those advocates, including Mathew Cortland, a senior fellow at Data for Progress.

    Cortland said he felt the group successfully educated Walensky.

    "We've really needed to explain to director Walensky that it is not encouraging to the tens of millions of Americans who are disabled, who are chronically ill, who are immunocompromised, who fall into the category she was talking about. It is not encouraging to us that our people are disproportionately dying," Cortland said.

    The concerns around messaging from public health officials for those who are disabled are not new, Cortland said. Devaluing those in the disabled, chronically ill and immunocompromised communities was "pervasive in public health," he said.

    "Ableism is a systemic problem," Cortland said. "It is a pervasive policy, substantive problem that disabled, chronically ill and immunocompromised people – literally tens of millions of us – are not being considered in the technical guidance that CDC issues."

    Cortland said the disability community was looking for a public apology in the form of commitment to creating substantive plans that could change the course of the pandemic for the marginalized group.

    "We really need CDC ... to commit to partnering with the disability community to develop substantive technical guidance and policy plans that will center chronically ill, immunocompromised and disabled people so that we're no longer left behind," Cortland said.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.