The COVID-19 Delta Variant is the “most transmissible” of the known variants and is spreading in at least 85 countries, warned the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attributed the strain’s spread to the lack of vaccines provided to poorer countries and blamed richer nations for harboring the shots on Friday. He compared the current global situation to the AIDS outbreak and the 2009 swine flu pandemic when poorer countries received vaccines long after both crises ended.
“The Delta Variant, the virus, will continue to evolve,” said Maria Van Kerkhov, the COVID-19 technical lead for the WHO. “Right now our public health and social measures work, our vaccines work, our diagnostics work, our therapeutics work. But there may be a time where this virus evolves and these countermeasures don’t.”
She warned “the global situation is incredibly fragile.” The Delta Variant was first discovered in India.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:
Ghebreyesus 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 declining to immediately share shots with the developing world. “If there is no vaccine, what do you share?”
Ghebreyesus said the global community was failing.
“It took 10 years (for antiretrovirals) to reach the low-income countries after (HIV) was already rampant in high-income countries,” he said. “Do we want to repeat the same thing?”
COVAX, the U.N.-backed effort aiming to distribute vaccines to poor countries, has missed several targets to share COVID-19 shots, and its biggest supplier is not expected to export any vaccines until the end of the year. The hundreds of millions of doses promised by countries including Britain, the U.S. and others are not likely to arrive anytime soon.
“We have through COVAX this month zero doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, zero doses of Pfizer vaccine, zero doses of (Johnson and Johnson) vaccine,” acknowledged Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the WHO chief. “Every single one of our suppliers is unable to supply during this period because others are making demands on those products, others who are vaccinating very young populations that are not at risk.”
As border restrictions and other public health measures are loosened across Europe, the U.S. and in other countries with high vaccination rates, WHO officials warned that this could lead to a resurgence of disease.
Van Kerkhove said that while transmission is dropping in Europe, there are numerous events—from large sporting events to backyard barbecues—that all have consequences for disease spread.
Earlier this month, British officials announced that they would allow 60,000 fans to attend the semi-finals and finals of the European football championships at London’s Wembley Stadium—to the dismay of some public health experts.
Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, called it “worrying and confusing,” saying there was limited data to prove its safety, especially given the prevalence of the more infectious Delta Variant. “[The] inevitable opportunities for the virus to spread in enclosed spaces like lavatories is a recipe for disaster.”