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WHO continues call for solidarity around COVID-19

COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the world, with the Delta variant (B1617.2) found in three more countries and the United States among the top countries for both case increase and rate of case increase.

Amid the surge, the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to call for solidarity actions, including a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine boosters and technology transfers regarding COVID-19 drugs in short supply.

Calls for equitable allocation of vaccines, treatments

At a press conference today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, reiterated the agency’s moratorium on COVID-19 boosters. Ten countries have administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines, while low-income countries have vaccinated little more than 2% of their populations, he said, which was why he was “stunned” when news broke this week about Johnson & Johnson vaccines being exported from South Africa to Europe.

According to the New York Times, Johnson & Johnson has shipped 32 million doses from Africa in recent months. And while the African Union’s deliveries have arrived on schedule, at the end of June, South Africa had received only about 1.5 million doses of its contract target of 2.8 million.

“Vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity, and if we don’t tackle it together, we will prolong the acute stage of this pandemic for years when it could be over in a matter of months,” Tedros said. “When G20 health ministers meet on the 5th and 6th of September in Rome, I will call on them to consider the fragility of this historic moment and make a clear, defining commitment to solidarity.”

Later this year, Johnson & Johnson’s Aspen contractor will exclusively supply doses to African countries, Paul Stoffels, MD, Johnson & Johnson chief scientific officer, told the Times.

Also today, the WHO and Unitaid issued a statement regarding Roche’s shortage announcement of tocilizumab, a monoclonal antibody the WHO recommends for COVID-19 treatment. Roche says slowing vaccination rates and a surge in demand are the cause, and although the shortage may resolve by the end of the month, more may occur in the future.

“While we welcome and acknowledge that Roche has announced measures to address the shortage”—which includes allocating remaining supply to COVID-19 hot spots—”we call on the company to ensure equitable allocation of current stocks of this medicine for all countries, including low- and middle-income countries,” the statement says.

The organizations encourage Roche to facilitate technology transfer and knowledge and data sharing. The WHO has also issued a call for Expression of Interest to its prequalification program to expand the number of quality-assured manufacturers of the drug.

As it stands, on Monday, at least some pharmacists received emails saying that any orders placed during this period will be canceled and those received prior to Aug 16 will be evaluated by the company, according to Twitter.

COVID-19 continues to surge

Cases have continued to increase around the world, led by 14% and 8% increases in the Western Pacific and Americas, respectively, according to the WHO‘s weekly epidemiologic update yesterday. While deaths stayed level, the Middle East reported a weekly death toll of 7,034, a 15% increase from last week and the region’s highest since the pandemic began.

The United States, Iran, and India had the highest number of new cases last week. The United States is also among the countries with the steepest rise in cases (20%), along with the Philippines (28%) and Japan (23%). Europe is showing signs of a plateau, but cases are still going up in countries such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Israel, Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.

Earlier this week, New Zealand made headlines for announcing a 3-day, nationwide lockdown after its first local case in months. Now the country is reporting 10 total cases with a link to the Sydney outbreak, according to the New Zealand Herald and Australia’s ABC News. Australia itself is still in the midst of its COVID-19 surge, with New South Wales (where Sydney is located) reporting a record 633 new cases and the national capital, Canberra, reporting 22 new cases.

Three more countries have detected the Delta variant, putting the total at 148.

Other global headlines

  • Due to concerns over COVID-19 transmission, the United States is asking world leaders to meet virtually instead of traveling to New York next month for an annual United Nations meeting, according to Reuters.
  • Pope Francis, along with six cardinals and archbishops from the Americas, said that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and an “act of love” in a video message today.
  • As Cuba is turning to its military to help with oxygen delivery and vaccination, doctors in the country are using social media to highlight oxygen and medical supply shortages, according to Reuters.
  • Global COVID-19 cases total 209,006,868, including 4,388,708 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker.
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