May 21, 2021 -- The COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States and Europe offer protection against the four main coronavirus variants known to exist, a World Health Organization official says.
"All COVID-19 virus variants that have emerged so far do respond to the available approved vaccines," WHO European Regional Director Hans Kluge said Thursday at a news conference.
Kluge said the B.1.617 variant now killing thousands of people daily in India, where it was first detected, is of special concern.
That variant has spread to all six WHO regions and has been detected in 26 of the 53 nations in the WHO European region. Most cases are linked to international travel, he said.
“It is able to spread rapidly and displace the B.1.1.7 variant that has become the dominant lineage in Europe,” he said.
Kluge emphasized that while many people have not been vaccinated yet, all variants can be controlled with public health and safety measures, such as masks and social distancing.
"For the time being, we can say that all the four variants do respond to the vaccines made available, as of today," he said. "But the best way to counteract [spread] is to speed up the vaccination roll-out."
The other variants are the ones first detected in Brazil (P.1) and South Africa (B.1.351).
Luge said the vaccination program is bringing down COVID numbers in the WHO European region, with case counts decreasing 60% in a month. But he warned against letting our guard down.
“This progress is fragile. We have been here before. Let us not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year that resulted in a resurgence of COVID-19,” he said.
Luge said nations should “eliminate or rethink” international travel. But the European Union and the United Kingdom have recently relaxed guidance for international travel.
“Vaccines may be the light at the end of the tunnel, but we must not be blinded by that light,” he said.