The Covid-19 Delta variant first identified in India would become a dominant strain, accounting for 90% of the new infections in the European Union in August, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has warned.
The EU health agency echoed what the World Health Organization and the United States CDC earlier said.
The ECDC estimates that the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) is 40% to 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) first discovered in the United Kingdom, which is currently the predominant variant of the novel coronavirus circulating in the bloc.
The higher transmissibility rate of the Delta variant is a concern for many governments across Europe even as most countries are moving to ease restrictions in the wake of an overall fall in new COVID-19 cases.
“It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” the ECDC said.
“This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.”
The health body said it was “very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace” in order to stop the spread of the variant and mitigate its health impact.
To date, about 30% of those aged 80 and above and 40% of the above-60s in the EU are still not fully vaccinated, as per the ECDC data.
The ECDC said vaccines approved by the block offered “high protection” against the variant.
This came as a new study by Oxford University researchers, published in the journal Cell, said COVID-19 vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Pfizer remain broadly effective against the Delta variant.
Last week, the Public Health England (PHE) also showed that vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca provided more than 90 percent protection against hospitalisation from the Delta variant.
The ECDC cautioned EU members about easing curbs aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.
“Any relaxation over the summer months of the stringency of non-pharmaceutical measures that were in place … in early June could lead to a fast and significant increase in daily cases in all age groups,” the agency said.
This increase could in turn lead to a rise in “hospitalisations, and deaths, potentially reaching the same levels of the autumn of 2020 if no additional measure is taken”, it added.