WHO warns of ‘2-track pandemic’ as cases decline but vaccine inequity persists

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The World Health Organisation has said that even though COVID-19 cases and deaths have declined in recent weeks, the world was facing a “two-track pandemic”.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said this on Monday at a media briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva while campaigning to get more vaccines to developing countries.

Ghebreyesus said unequal distribution of vaccines had allowed COVID-19 to continue spreading, thus increasing odds of a variant emerging that could render these treatments ineffective.

“Inequitable vaccination is a threat to all nations, not just those with the fewest vaccines,” he warned

As of Monday, there were more than 173 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, including 3.7 million deaths.

Ghebreyesus revealed that new cases had dropped for six weeks and deaths for five weeks.

Despite these encouraging signs, he said progress remains “a mixed picture” as last week, deaths rose in Africa, the Americas and the Western Pacific.

“Increasingly, we see a two-track pandemic: many countries still face an extremely dangerous situation, while some of those with the highest vaccination rates are starting to talk about ending restrictions.”

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The UN’s top health official advised caution in lifting restrictions, given the increased global transmission of variants of concern, as consequences could be disastrous for those not yet inoculated.

Meanwhile, many countries still lack sufficient vaccines; so far, nearly 44 per cent of doses have been administered in richer countries while in poorer nations, the figure is just 0.4 per cent.

The UN has been pressing governments to share their excess doses to the global vaccine equity initiative -COVAX while several countries have pledged donations, which Ghebreyesus hoped will soon be fulfilled.

The WHO chief recently called for a global push to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the world’s population by September, and 30 per cent by December.

Reaching the September target will require an additional 250 million doses, with 100 million needed in June and July alone.

With the G7 summit taking place this weekend, the director-general issued an appeal to leaders.

“These seven nations have the power to meet these targets. I am calling on the G7 not just to commit to sharing doses, but to commit to sharing them in June and July.

“I also call on all manufacturers to give COVAX first right of refusal on new volume of vaccines, or to commit 50 per cent of their volumes to COVAX this year.”

Ghebreyesus also highlighted the importance of investing in vaccine production in low income countries, including for routine immunisations.

He noted that several nations were making progress in this area, following the launch of an African Union partnership for vaccine manufacturing.

Relatedly, several companies and countries have expressed interest in participating in a WHO plan to establish a technology transfer hub to facilitate global production of mRNA vaccines.

The biggest barrier to ending the pandemic remains sharing: of doses, of resources, of technology,” he said.

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