GENEVA (AN) — Confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide topped 200 million with 4.25 million deaths as of Wednesday, amid a surge in highly transmissible delta variant infections that has spread to more than 130 countries.
It took a little more than a year from the first reported outbreak to reach 100 million cases, and just six months more to double that, according to World Health Organization figures. WHO urged wealthy nations to enact a summerlong moratorium on booster shots to free up vaccines for others to deliver their first shots.
"So far, more than 4 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally. More than 80% have gone to high- and upper-middle income countries, even though they account for less than half of the world’s population," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.
"I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant," he said. "But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected."
COVID-19 infections keep spreading globally despite all of the lockdowns, travel restrictions, mask-wearing and social distancing that have been imposed on and off by various nations. In late July, almost 4 million new cases were recorded in a week, representing an increase of 8% from the week earlier.
The Americas has recorded 77.9 million cases, followed by Europe's 60.7 million, Southeast Asia's 38.8 million, the Eastern Mediterranean's 12.8 million, Africa's 5 million and the Western Pacific's 4.7 million, WHO reported.
That has been accompanied by 2 million deaths in the Americas, 1.2 million in Europe, 582 million in Southeast Asia, 239.7 million in the Eastern Mediterranean, 119.8 million in Africa and 67.4 million in the Western Pacific.
Tedros called for "an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries." He said WHO also sought a moratorium on boosters at least until the end of September, which would allow "at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated."
He put the onus of responsibility on the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines, and also on the Group of 20 major economies that are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of COVID-19 vaccines.
"It’s no understatement to say that the course of the pandemic depends on the leadership of the G-20 countries," said Tedros. "One month from now, the G-20 health ministers will meet, ahead of the G-20 summit in October. I call on them to make concrete commitments to support WHO’s global vaccination targets."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that U.S. President Joe Biden's administration believes WHO's call for a moratorium creates an artificial dilemma: whether to donate vaccines abroad or use them domestically to provide boosters. But she also suggested that the Group of Seven rich democracies — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — have to shoulder greater responsibility.
"We feel that it’s a false choice and that we can do both. We announced just yesterday that we hit an important milestone of over 110 million vaccines donated to the world. That is more than any other country has shared, combined," Psaki said in response to a reporter's question at a White House press briefing."
"We also made clear that that is the beginning, and we also started to donate the 500 million doses of Pfizer we’ve purchased. We will start to donate those later this month," she said. "So, we’ve taken action on the global level far more than any country around the world. We’re asking the global community to also step up. We saw some action at the G-7; more needs to happen. But we believe we can do both."