The week gone past saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported from across the globe, the head of the World Health Organization told journalists over an online press briefing on Thursday. The numbers are expected to increase in the coming week.
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus reiterated his longstanding call for vaccine equity and solidarity to defeat the COVID-19 crisis, now reaching into its third year.
“The dawn of a new year offers an opportunity to renew our collective response to a shared threat,” he said.
“I hope global leaders who have shown such resolve in protecting their own populations will extend that resolve, to make sure that the whole world is safe and protected.”
WHO’s latest weekly epidemiological report shows that COVID-19 case numbers increased at a global level by 71 per cent over the past seven days as some 9.5 million cases were reported.
“We know that that is an underestimate,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s technical lead on COVID-19 said, adding that “next week will be higher, because in the last 24 hours, more than 2.2 million cases were reported.”
Tedros described vaccine inequity as “a killer of people and jobs”, which is also undermining global economic recovery. Low vaccination rates have also created the perfect conditions for virus variants to emerge.
He said the “tsunami” of cases has been overwhelming health systems across the world.
“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild’,” he cautioned.
Although first-generation vaccines may not stop all COVID-19 infections and transmission, Tedros stressed that they remain highly effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths.
WHO has been advocating for countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of their populations by the middle of 2022. Tedros warned that at the current pace, some 109 countries could miss this target.
“The essence of the disparity is that some countries are moving toward vaccinating citizens a fourth time, while others haven’t even had enough regular supply to vaccinate their health workers and those at most risk,” he said.
“Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected.”
Share and invest
The world can end vaccine inequity firstly by effectively sharing the doses that are being produced, he said.
“Second, let’s take a ‘never again’ approach to pandemic preparedness and vaccine manufacturing so that as soon as the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines become available, they are produced equitably and countries don’t have to beg for scarce resources,” he advised.
For its part, he assured that WHO will continue to invest in vaccine manufacturing hubs and work with any and all manufacturers willing to share know-how, technology and licenses.
Image: COVID vaccines are being administered at a village clinic in Kohima, India.
Photo by Tiatemjen Jamir, UNICEF