LONDON – The head of the World Health Organization has declared that the delta variant of COVID-19, first seen in India, is “the most transmissible of the variants identified to date”, and warned that it is now spread to at least 85 countries.
During a press briefing on Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the lack of vaccines in poor countries exacerbated transmission of the delta variant. He described a recent meeting he attended of an advisory group established to allocate vaccines.
“They were disappointed because there is no vaccine to allocate,” he said, criticizing rich countries for refusing to immediately share vaccines with the developing world. “If there is no vaccine, what do you share? “
Tedros said the global community was failing and was risking repeating mistakes made during the AIDS crisis decades ago and the 2009 swine flu pandemic – when vaccines didn’t reach poor countries until after the end of the epidemic.
“It took 10 years (for antiretrovirals) to reach low income countries after HIV was already endemic in high income countries,” he said. “Do we want to repeat the same thing? “
COVAX, the UN-backed effort to distribute vaccines to poor countries, has missed several targets to share COVID-19 vaccines, and its largest supplier is not expected to export vaccines until the end of the year. The hundreds of millions of doses promised by countries like Britain, the United States and others are not expected to arrive anytime soon.
“Thanks to COVAX this month, we have zero dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, zero dose of Pfizer vaccine, zero dose of vaccine (Johnson and Johnson),” admitted Dr Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the head of the WHO. “Each of our suppliers is not able to obtain supplies during this period because others are making requests for these products, others are vaccinating very young populations who are not at risk.”
As border restrictions and other public health measures are relaxed in Europe, the United States and other countries with high vaccination rates, WHO officials have warned that this could lead to a resurgence of the disease.
“The global situation is incredibly fragile,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical officer on COVID-19. Van Kerkhove said that although transmission is declining in Europe, there are many events – from big sporting events to backyard barbecues – all of which have consequences for the spread of the disease.
“The delta variant, the virus, will continue to evolve,” Van Kerkhove said. “Right now, our public health and social measures are working, our vaccines are working, our diagnostics, our therapies. But there may be a time when this virus evolves and these countermeasures do not.”
Earlier this month, UK officials announced they would allow 60,000 fans to attend the semi-finals and finals of the European Football Championships at London’s Wembley Stadium – much to the chagrin of some public health experts .
Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, called it “disturbing and confusing”, saying there was little data to prove its safety, especially given the prevalence of the more infectious delta variant. . “(The) inevitable opportunities for the virus to spread in confined spaces like toilets is a recipe for disaster. “
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