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WHO official: Delta variant 'poised to take hold' in Europe

The World Health Organization's (WHO) regional director of the Europe office said on Thursday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is “poised to take hold” on the continent as the U.K. works to fight off the strain. 

Hans Henri Kluge expressed concern about the Delta variant, known by the scientific name B.1.617.2, pointing to recent research appearing to show it can spread quickly and infect those who have received one of two vaccine doses at higher rates than the fully vaccinated.

“The new Delta variant of concern, which shows increased transmissibility and some immune escape, is poised to take hold in the region, while many among vulnerable populations above the age of 60 remain unprotected,” Kluge said during a press conference. 

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The WHO official compared Europe’s current pandemic status to where the continent was a year ago, saying, “We have been here before.”

“Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups and then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence, lockdowns and loss of life in the autumn and winter of 2020,” he said. “Let’s not make that mistake again.”

The U.K. has determined that the Delta strain is the dominant variant in the country, overtaking the Alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7. The surge is prominent among 12- to 20-year-olds, the U.S.'s top infectious disease expert, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci says he puts 'very little weight in the craziness of condemning me' Beware language and the art of manipulation The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay MORE, said earlier in the week.  

A study from Public Health England found that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are 88 percent and 60 percent effective, respectively, against the Delta variant.

But both vaccines were only 33 percent effective against symptomatic cases of the Delta variant after one dose. 

Kluge did not recommend against traveling but said those who do should “do it responsibly, apply common sense and do not jeopardize hard earned gains.” He called for both continued compliance to coronavirus precautions and vaccinations to reduce cases. 

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“A combination of public health measures and vaccination, not one or the other, is the way out of the pandemic,” he said.

“Although we have come far, we have not come far enough,” he added. “Vaccination coverage is far from sufficient to protect the region from resurgence.”

In the U.S., the Delta variant is estimated to make up more than 6 percent of all COVID-19 cases, Fauci said on Tuesday, as he called for more Americans to get vaccinated.