Vaccines ‘outpaced by variants’, WHO warns, as Delta now in 98 countries | Vaccines and immunisation

Rich nations are sharing vaccines with low-income countries too slowly to prevent the spread of the Delta variant of Covid, risking milli...


Rich nations are sharing vaccines with low-income countries too slowly to prevent the spread of the Delta variant of Covid, risking millions of lives, the head of the World Health Organization has warned.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said the sharing of vaccines was “only a trickle, which is being outpaced by variants”, after it emerged that the Delta variant is now present in at least 98 countries.

His warning came as Dame Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford professor who led the team behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, called for caution over proposals to vaccinate children in the UK. “We have to balance what we think about vaccinating children in high-income countries with vaccinating the rest of the world because we need to stop transmission of this virus globally,” she told the Observer.

“We’re not completely out of the woods. And that’s why I’m very worried about getting vaccines around the rest of the world because we need to stop the virus being transmitted and continuing to evolve. That could give us a new variant that is going to be really difficult to deal with.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says vaccine sharing has slowed to ‘a trickle’. Photograph: Laurent Gilliéron/AP

Ghebreyesus said world leaders must ensure that at least 10% of people in all countries should be vaccinated by the end of September, so that vulnerable people and health workers were protected.

“The Delta variant is dangerous and is continuing to evolve and mutate, which requires constant evaluation and careful adjustment of the public health response,” Ghebreyesus said. “Delta has been detected in at least 98 countries, and is spreading quickly in countries with low and high vaccination coverage.

“The world must equitably share protective gear, oxygen, tests, treatments and vaccines.” By next July, 70% of people in every country should be vaccinated, he added. “This is the best way to slow the pandemic, save lives and drive a truly global economic recovery, and along the way prevent further dangerous variants from getting the upper hand.”

This point was backed by Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Oxford. “Delta is going to sweep through the EU in much the same way as here. Fortunately, they too are vaccinating at a very fast rate, and like the UK are probably just past the point of maximum danger, though summer will be rough.

“But with so few people in developing countries vaccinated, their point of maximum danger is ahead. Once Delta gets going, it will overwhelm healthcare systems very rapidly unless vaccination improves. Overwhelming health systems will lead to a disproportionate rise in deaths as oxygen runs out, healthcare professionals are knocked out and other care halted. More thought needs to be given to whether vaccinating young children in the rich world is as important and ethically justified as vaccinating key workers and the most vulnerable in developing countries.”

So far, 3 billion vaccines have been distributed, but low-income countries need new manufacturing hubs, he said. “I urge those companies like BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna to share their knowhow so that we can speed up the development of new production. The sooner we start building more vaccine hubs and upping global vaccine capacity, the sooner we can diminish deadly surges.”

Last week, the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization joined the WHO in calling for “urgent action” to increase vaccine supplies. They also asked the G20 group of nations to accelerate efforts to reach vaccination targets.

Scientists have emphasised the urgency of vaccinating the world, because the current vaccines are already less effective against the Delta variant than other variants, and Delta is substantially more transmissible.

David Bauer, group leader of the RNA Virus Replication Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute, said: “From a virology perspective, it’s very very clear – the Delta variant is going to displace all the other variants that currently exist. It took about eight weeks to displace Alpha in the United Kingdom, it’s well on its way to displacing Beta in South Africa, and you see similar exponential trends in the United States.

“We should be vaccinating everybody as quickly as possible and then identifying groups that need booster vaccinations the most. [The UK] just missed the deadline, as it were – if this variant had come along just a month or two later, we would be in a different place in terms of having people definitely vaccinated.

“We need everybody vaccinated now. We are not all protected until the whole world is protected. It can come across as idealism, but it’s not – there’s a cold-hearted, self-interested motivation behind all of it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Vaccines ‘outpaced by variants’, WHO warns, as Delta now in 98 countries | Vaccines and immunisation
Vaccines ‘outpaced by variants’, WHO warns, as Delta now in 98 countries | Vaccines and immunisation
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