The World Health Organization (WHO) on 29 June said that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing but it is not over and cautioned the cases are on the rise in 110 countries. It also added the cases are being driven mainly by two fast-spreading Omicron sub-variants.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said hat the fast-spreading Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 together are estimated to make up half of the coronavirus cases in the United States.
Till 25 June, BA.5 made up 36.6 per cent of the total coronavirus cases in the US while BA.4 accounted for 15.7 per cent, together accounting for about 52 per cent of new cases in the US.
"On COVID-19, driven by BA.4 and BA.5 in many places, cases are on the rise in 110 countries, causing overall global cases to increase by 20 per cent and deaths have risen in three of the six WHO regions even as the global figure remains relatively stable," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
According to him, the ability to track the virus is 'under threat' as reporting and genomic sequences are declining, making it harder to track Omicron and analyse future emerging variants.
Citing his concern over the slow pace of vaccination in lower-income countries, he said, "We’re close to the mid-point of the year, which is the point at which WHO had called on all countries to vaccinate at least 70% of their population."
In the past 18 months, more than 12 billion vaccines have been distributed around the world and 75 per cent of the world’s health workers and over-60s are now vaccinated. Lancet estimates that 20 million lives have been saved because of vaccines.
“On the flip side, hundreds of millions of people, including tens of millions of health workers and older people in lower-income countries remain unvaccinated, which means they are more vulnerable to future waves of the virus," the WHO chief said.
“With only 58 countries hitting the 70 percent target, some have said it’s not possible for low-income countries to make it," he said.
Ghebreyesus gave the the example of Rwanda where second dose vaccination rates are now above 65 per cent and still rising. The WHO Chief underlined that it is important to keep the most at-risk groups up to date with vaccination.
On the research and development front, Ghebreyesus said it is critical that there be funding for second-generation vaccines as well as tests and treatments.
"While honing vaccines to the evolving virus variants makes sense, I am concerned that the pace of mutation means the world is continuing to play catch up. Building on existing vaccines that limit severity and prevent death, developing second generation vaccines that stop – or at least lower infection – would be a major step forward," he said.