Jan. 13 (UPI) — As the pandemic continues to grow and much of the poorer world remains unvaccinated against it, the World Health Organization is warning that while Omicron causes less severe disease compared to other variants, it is still dangerous, especially to those who have yet to receive the life-saving jab.
The pandemic last week grew by more than 15 million infections, which is by far the most reported in a seven-day period, and was fueled in large part by the Omicron variant that is forecast to replace Delta in nearly all nations.
Data shows that while cases grow, deaths have stabilized at about 50,000 a week, which WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters during a Wednesday press conference in Geneva is still too high.
“Learning to live with the virus does not mean we can, or should accept this number of deaths,” he said. “We must not allow this virus a free ride or wave the white flag, especially when so many people around the world remain unvaccinated.”
According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data project, more than 9.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide with nearly 60% of all eligible people having received at least one dose.
However, the data shows that in low-income countries only 9.5% of people have received one dose. On the African continent, more than 85% are still waiting for their first shot.
In the East African nation of Burundi the percentage of its nearly 12 million people who have received one dose is 0.0046%, making it the lowest-vaccinated country on the continent, followed by Democratic Republic of Congo at 0.29%, Chad at 1.7% and South Sudan at 2.1%.
“We cannot end the acute phase of the pandemic unless we close this gap,” Tedros said. “More transmission means more hospitalizations, more deaths, more people off work, including teachers and health workers, and more risk of another variant emerging that is even more transmissible and more deadly than Omicron.”
Tedros said they have made progress through their COVAX program that aims to achieve equitable access to vaccines, which shipped in December double the doses it did the month before with estimates that its 1 billionth dose shipped will occur in days.
However, Tedros said they still have a long way to go to achieve the goal of 70% worldwide inoculation by mid-year with 90 nations having yet to hit 40% and 36 of those nations still below 10%.
To address this disparity, the International Monetary Fund has called on the international community to do more to aid the continent.
In a blog post Wednesday, Kristalina Georgieva, IMF managing director, said it was “critical” the region has the tools necessary to build capacity to produce and manufacture vaccines.
“Africa remains reliant on COVID-19 vaccine imports and donations. The most immediate priority must be to guarantee predictability in vaccine deliveries,” she said. “Funding will also be needed to ensure that Africa’s health systems can vaccinate the local population swiftly as new supplies arrive.”
Beyond vaccines, the continent needs tests, treatment and protective equipment, she said, adding if the international community can close the $23 billion financing gap of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, of which COVAX is a pillar, “that would be a welcome first step.”
“To be clear, this international support is not charity,” she said. “This is a global pandemic public good! As we all know by now, no one is safe until everyone is safe.”