Ireland has the highest vaccination coverage and among the lowest death rates from Covid-19 in the European Union, according to new data showing that vaccination radically cuts how often people die when infected.
Ireland is first among the 27 countries with 93 per cent coverage, followed by Portugal, Malta, Denmark, Belgium and Spain, according to the comparison of national data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Over a 14-day period Ireland had 15 deaths per million of Covid-19. In Bulgaria, which has the EU's lowest vaccine coverage at just 29 per cent, the rate of deaths was more than 21 times higher than Ireland's, at 325 deaths per million over a two-week period.
Similarly in Romania, which has 43 per cent vaccination coverage, there were 267 deaths from Covid-19 per million people over a 14-day period, almost 18 times Ireland's rate.
It came as the World Health Organisation warned that total deaths from Covid-19 could exceed 2 million by March in its Europe region, which spans 53 countries including Russia and the Caucasus.
Data showed less than half of people leave home wearing a mask, and 160,000 lives could be saved by March if the rate of mask wearing increased to 95 per cent.
"We face a challenging winter ahead," said regional director Hans Kluge. "All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season."
European affairs ministers from the 27 EU member states met on Tuesday to discuss how to coordinate a response to rising rates, with the European Commission set to come forward with new recommendations in a bid to keep travel open within and into Europe.
The EU's digital Covid-19 certificate is also expected to be adjusted so that it can display booster shots, which some countries want to incentivise people to get. "We are working to make the booster or third dose on the certificate," justice commissioner Didier Reynders told journalists.
Vaccination rates are particularly low in eastern and central Europe, with Czechia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Poland all in the 60s, and Croatia and Slovakia on 55 and 54 per cent.
The low rates are blamed on cultural and historical factors including a low level of public trust in authorities.
A separate graph released by the European Commission showed that unvaccinated people make up the bulk of those hospitalised for Covid-19, despite being a minority of the population.