The World Health Organization earlier this week warned that the surging number of coronavirus cases being witnessed all across the world is only making it more likely that more dangerous variants will emerge in the future.
At the start of the pandemic about a year and a half ago, scientists pinpointed only one variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But as the novel virus spread across borders, natural mutations occurred, which gave rise to thousands of new versions of the contagion. In some instances, the mutated version became more contagious or even potentially more deadly.
Today, there are four particular variants that health officials are highly concerned about. The most well-known among them, the Delta variant, which is believed to have first originated in India, has been identified in more than a hundred ten countries and is now responsible for nearly six in ten cases in the United States.
“We expect it to be the dominant strain circulating worldwide, if it isn’t already,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a recent press briefing, adding that new variants of the future might be even more difficult to control.
Importance of Vaccines
Scientists and health officials have for months asserted that vaccines are one of the key tools to eventually ending the pandemic, but lower-income countries have struggled to have any access to the potentially life-saving shots. According to the University of Oxford’s Global Change Data Lab, only about 26 percent of the global population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. In contrast, approximately 56 percent of U.S. adults have had at least one shot.
Against this troubling backdrop, Tedros has contended that “greed” is driving persistent vaccine inequality around the world.
“We’re in the midst of a growing two-track pandemic where the haves and have-nots within and between countries are increasingly divergent,” he said in a statement.
“Even countries that successfully managed to ward off the early waves of the virus through public health measures alone, are now in the midst of devastating outbreaks,” he added.
Tedros noted that the potential need for booster shots could make the inequities worse. “Some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable,” he said.
U.S. Not Immune
Even in the United States, where the vaccination rates are much higher than the global average, new coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant have surged in recent weeks. The seven-day average of daily infections is sitting at roughly twenty-six thousand five hundred, a 67 percent jump from the previous week, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
“There is a message that is crystal clear: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a news briefing on Friday.
“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk,” she continued.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.