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Ugur Sahin said the EU could see herd immunity by July or August, as countries step up their vaccination programs. The 27-member bloc has been widely criticized for a slow vaccine rollout.
Europe can achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus this summer, the head of the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, said on Wednesday.
"Europe will reach herd immunity in July, latest by August,'' Ugur Sahin, BioNTech's chief executive, told reporters.
While the precise threshold required to reach that level of immunization is still under debate, experts say a level above 70% would significantly disrupt transmission of the virus within a population.
Sahin also called on European governments to continue to export the shots produced in the EU. The region could expect to achieve herd immunity by late summer, but it would be of little use if Europe were safe, but the virus continued to spread elsewhere, he said.
Sahin cautioned that this herd immunity initially wouldn't include children, as vaccines have so far only been approved for people over 16. A small number of children who fall ill with the virus suffer from a serious illness or long-term effects.
He added that BioNTech expects Chinese health authorities to approve its vaccine "by July at the latest," and that the company would start distributing the shot there that month.
"I am optimistic that we can help the people of China," said Sahin, describing its local partner, Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, as "a great company."
The announcement comes as concerns rise that existing vaccines might be less effective against new variants of the virus, now emerging in different parts of the world. Sahin said BioNTech has tested its vaccine against more than 30 variants, including the dominant UK variant, and found that the shot triggers an effective immune response against almost all of them in the lab.
The company's vaccine is one of the most prominent jabs in Europe and in North America, where it is more commonly known as the Pfizer shot.
The countries in Europe that have reported the highest number of cases include France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Italy. In Germany, where the BioNTech vaccine is produced, health officials have reported over 3.3 million cases and 82,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The EU has been widely criticized for a relatively slow vaccine rollout, which has seen ongoing lockdowns extended through the spring months.
lc/sms (AP, Reuters)