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Aug. 4, 2021, 3:34 p.m. EDT

Delta variant is now in 135 countries, says WHO, as director-general calls for moratorium on boosters to allow poorer countries get first doses

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Ciara Linnane

The highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is now in 135 countries, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, as its head called for a moratorium on booster shots of vaccines to ensure poorer countries can get access to first doses.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made this latest appeal for greater vaccine equity at a regular press briefing, the Associated Press reported. The agency has said there is still not enough data to show that boosters are needed for people who have had both shots of a two-dose vaccine in reining in the spread of the virus.

Tedros reiterated the target set by WHO earlier this year of having 10% of the populations of all countries get vaccines by September on the grounds that as long as major swaths of a population are unvaccinated, variants may emerge, with the risk that one might prove fully vaccine-resistant.

“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” he said Wednesday.

In its weekly epidemiological update, the WHO said the global number of confirmed new cases stood at more than 4 million in the week through Aug. 1, and has now been rising for more than a month.

The trend is being driven by sharp rises in the eastern Mediterranean and western Pacific regions, which reported 37% and 33% increases, respectively, in the latest week, while the southeastern Asia region reported a 9% increase.

The number of deaths fell 7% from the previous week to 64,000-plus. The global tally of cases could exceed 200 million by next week.

The update also said that the delta variant was detected in three new countries in the latest week, boosting the total to 135. The delta variant is dominant in the U.S., where younger people are showing more severe forms of COVID, as the New York Times reported.

Many of the patients that are now being hospitalized are younger than 50, in contrast to the significantly higher average age when the pandemic surged last year. Doctors are reporting many cases in patients in their 20s or 30s, almost always unvaccinated, and they are said to be sicker than younger people were last year.

Doctors have coined the phrase “younger, sicker, quicker” to describe the phenomenon and suspect that delta is playing a role, although there is not enough data yet to be confident.

Experts continue to urge unvaccinated people in all age groups to get their shots and not put themselves at risk of a potentially lethal illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 65-and-older Americans have the highest vaccination rate, with 80.1% fully vaccinated.

Read now:   I traveled overseas as the delta variant of COVID-19 surged. Here’s what I wish I knew before my trip.

That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.07% with German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -0.61% or Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +1.54% , or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.36% one-dose regimen. The AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.66% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN -1.07% vaccine, widely used in the U.K. and other places, has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

That compares with the overall vaccination rate of 49.7%. Among adults 18 and over, 60.6% are fully vaccinated and 70.1% have received at least one dose. But rates vary widely from state to state, and a group of mostly southern states, led by Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama, are experiencing worrying COVID-case surges, according to a New York Times tracker.

Governors in some of those states are resisting revised CDC guidance on wearing face masks, even as their hospitals fill with patients. Others have changed their minds. Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, said he now regrets signing a law barring mask mandates from being enacted locally in his state.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is aiming to grant full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by Labor Day or sooner, the New York Times reported . That may boost vaccination rates, as some resisters have cited the lack of full approval as a reason to avoid the shot, and it is hoped that approval will boost public confidence and encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Pfizer applied for full approval for its vaccine on May 7, and Moderna applied in June. A full approval is a much more in-depth type of authorization that takes a longer time ; even a “priority review” can take six months. But experts have urged the FDA to speed up the process, as COVID-19 continues to spread and since the vaccine has shown to be safe and effective in millions of people.

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