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“Aggravated by more transmissible variants, such as Delta, which is quickly becoming dominant in many countries, we are in a very dangerous period of this COVID-19 pandemic,” the director general of the World Health Organization.

The Delta variant, initially detected in India and with a transmission capacity up to 60 times greater than that of the original virus, is now present in 98 countries. Its capacity for mutation is also extremely worrying.

“Delta is dangerous, and continues to evolve and mutate, requiring constant assessment and careful adjustment of the public health response,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus.

“In countries with low COVID-19 vaccination coverage, terrible scenes of overwhelmed hospitals are once again the norm,” he said, however, “no country is out of the woods yet.”

For her part, the scientific director of the Organization, Soumya Swaminathan, explained that, in the presence of more contagious variants, It is important that the second dose of the vaccine be received at the recommended time since the complete vaccination schedule offers the highest degree of projection.

Meanwhile, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist who leads the Organization's coronavirus response, recalled that the virus has been evolving since it first appeared.

“It's what viruses do. The variants of concern we are currently tracking are four: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. They will continue to evolve: there will be more mutations, more variants will be detected, and some of them will be variants of concern,” he predicted.

Van Kerkhove said there were “lineages” of the Delta variant that experts are currently tracking and urged countries to expand their genomic sequencing efforts.

Two ways to face the pandemic and the variants

Tedros highlighted that There are basically two ways that countries can deal with the emergence of new waves and increases in cases.

On the one hand, maintain public health and social measures, such as robust transmission surveillance, strategic testing, early case detection, isolation or quarantine, and clinical care. To which we must add wearing a mask, respecting social distancing, avoiding crowded places, and achieving good ventilation in closed areas.

In second place, equitably share protective equipment, oxygen, tests, treatments and vaccines between countries.

“I have urged leaders around the world to work together to ensure that, by this time next year, 70% of all people in all countries are vaccinated. It is the best way to stop the pandemic, save lives, drive a truly global economic recovery and, in the process, prevent other dangerous variants from taking the lead,” Tedros explained.

By the end of September, the World Health Organization has called on leaders to vaccinate at least 10% of people in all countries.

It's a challenge, but it's possible.

According to Tedros, ensuring this would effectively end the acute stage of the pandemic and would save a significant number of lives.

“It is a challenge, but we know it is possible, because 3000 billion vaccines have already been distributed. “It is within the collective power of a few countries to step up and ensure that vaccines are shared, manufacturing increases and that funds are in place to purchase the necessary tools,” he urged.

Although some vaccines are now being shared, It is still “just a trickle” and the variants surpass it.

“In those countries whose hospitals are filling up, they need vaccines and other health tools right now,” he stressed.

A COVID-19 testing site in Madagascar.

Companies must also accelerate their efforts

The UN health agency is also urging BioTech, Pfizer and Moderna to share knowledge and technology so that it is possible to accelerate the development of new manufacturing centers for mRNA vaccines.

“The sooner we start building more vaccine centers and increasing global vaccine capacity, the sooner we can reduce the deadly waves,” said the WHO official.

From its regional offices, the World Health Organization is currently promoting the idea of ​​vaccine effectiveness studies and working with countries to obtain data that allows them to assure the public that vaccines will continue to be effective against future variants.

In that sense, Soumya Swaminathan added that a lot of data has been collected on the effectiveness of the Pfizer-Biotech and AstraZeneca shots, but much less for other vaccines in use.

“Now, the good news is that all vaccines listed for emergency use by the WHO protect against the development of severe disease, hospitalization and death due to the Delta variant,” he explained recently during a WHO video interview.

Dr. Swaminathan recalled that a complete vaccination course is essential to provide full immunity against the Delta variant.

"None of the vaccines we currently have are 100% protective. So even if you are vaccinated, you can get the infection, but chances are you will have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, and the chances of getting seriously ill are very, very low,” he explained.

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine is the first vaccine that has been distributed in countries.

The world is still not prepared

Van Kerkhove commented that, despite the current pandemic, little is being done to prevent the next one.

“What worries me most is that we do not use this situation to make the necessary changes (to be better prepared for the next one). If we wait for the pandemic to end, we will not do it (…) More investment in health is needed around the world", said.


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Yair Ramirez
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