The World Health Organisation (WHO) says COVID-19 cases are on the rise in 110 countries, driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of the virus.
WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus disclosed this on Wednesday at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, noting that the variants amounted to a 20 per cent spike overall.
According to Mr Ghebreyesus, the number of deaths, monitored by WHO across three of the six world regions, has risen.
“This pandemic is changing but it’s not over. We have made progress but it’s not over,” the WHO chief stressed in his weekly briefing to journalists. “Only with concerted action by governments, international agencies and the private sector can we solve the converging challenges.”
He warned that “our ability to track the virus is under threat” as reporting and genomic sequences were declining.
The optimistic mid-year deadline for all countries to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of their populations is looking unlikely, with the average rate in low-income countries, standing at 13 per cent.
On the bright side, in the past 18 months, more than 12 billion vaccines have been distributed around the world, and 75 percent of the world’s health workers and over-60s are now vaccinated.
Mr Ghebreyesus said the influential Lancet medical journal estimated that 20 million lives were saved because of vaccines.
In 2021, it was the hoarding of vaccines by rich and manufacturing countries which proved to be the major barrier to access.
The WHO chief described the development as the wavering “political commitment to getting vaccines out to people – and challenges of disinformation,” thwarting the pace of inoculations at the national level.
He called for all at-risk groups to be vaccinated and boosted, as soon as possible.
“For the general population, it also makes sense to keep strengthening that wall of immunity, which helps lessen the severity of the disease and lowers the risk of long- or post-COVID condition,” he noted.
According to him, continuing ‘mild’ cases are disruptive and damaging, keeping children out of school and adults from their jobs, “which causes further economic and supply chain disruption.”
Mr Ghebreyesus said the goal of 70 per cent coverage was still desirable, based on the principle that “if we don’t share vaccines equitably, then we undercut the philosophy that all lives are equal.”
“The ideal solution would be the development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine that covers all the variants so far and potentially future ones,” he suggested. “This is feasible, WHO continues to convene scientists and researchers and there has been a lot of research into this virus and understanding immunology overall.”
He said through the agency’s Solidarity Trials, global trials of new vaccines could take place to rapidly establish their safety and efficacy.