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June 30, 2021, 2:36 p.m. EDT

More than 3 billion COVID vaccine shots administered globally, but unevenly. Delta variant now in 96 countries

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Ciara Linnane

The number of doses of vaccines against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 that have been administered globally rose above 3 billion on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, although distribution remains highly unequal between the developed and developing worlds.

The number is not nearly what’s needed. Tt will require 11 billion doses to inoculate 70% of the world’s population of about 7 billion people,  according to researchers at Duke University cited by the New York Times recently.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 154.2 million people, equal to 46.4% of the population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.57% with German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -5.53% or Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -5.38% or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.30% one-jab regimen. The AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +1.46% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +2.04% vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among adults 18 and older, 57.2% are fully inoculated, while 66.2% of that group has received at least one dose.

Many parts of the rest of the world are far behind, however. While 23.2% of the world’s overall population has received at least one dose, only 0.9% of people in low-income countries have reached that threshold, according to data company Our World in Data.

The World Health Organization said the global number of new cases was roughly flat at more than 2.6 million in the week ended June 27 compared with the previous week, while the weekly death toll declined 10% to its lowest level since early November 2020. The highly infectious delta variant that was first detected in India is now in 96 countries, said WHO.

“Globally, COVID-19 incidence remains very high with an average of over 370 000 cases reported each day over the past week,” the agency said in its weekly Epidemiological Update.

The Africa region recorded a 33% increase in cases in the latest week and a 42% rise in mortality. The Eastern Mediterranean and European regions also saw increases in cases. The highest numbers of new cases came from Brazil, India, Colombia and Russia, the latter of which has suffered several days of record death numbers.

“Virus evolution is expected, and the more SARS-CoV-2 circulates, the more opportunities it has to evolve,” said the update.

The head of the CDC took to the airwaves to explain her agency’s clashing approach to face masks with the WHO, which is pushing the idea that even vaccinated people should continue to wear face masks indoors. Dr. Rochelle Walensky told NBC’s “Today” show that the WHO is making guidelines for the entire world and bases its decisions on what’s best for everyone, including many unvaccinated people, as the delta variant surges.

See now: WHO says delta variant of COVID means even vaccinated people should keep wearing face masks, as more Asian cities lock down

“So as the WHO makes those recommendations, they do so in that context,” she said. “Here in the United States, we’re fortunate. We have three vaccines that we know are safe and effective. We have two-thirds of the adult population that is fully vaccinated and really quite protected from the variants that we have circulating.”

She said those parts of the country with low vaccination rates should be careful and follow recommendations made at the local level. “But those masking policies are not to protect the vaccinated, they’re to protect the unvaccinated,” she said.

Elsewhere, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated top officials for failures in coronavirus prevention that caused a “great crisis,” using strong language that raised the specter of a mass outbreak in a country that would be scarcely able to handle it, as MarketWatch’s Mike Murphy reported.

The state media report Wednesday did not specify what “crucial” lapse had prompted Kim to call the Politburo meeting, but experts said North Korea could be wrestling with a significant setback in its pandemic fight. The news is a turnabout, as North Korea has said until now it has had zero COVID cases, despite sharing a porous border with China. Experts widely doubt the claim and are concerned about any potential outbreak, given the country’s poor health infrastructure.

In Australia, the town of Alice Springs, located in the middle of the Outback by the Unesco World Heritage–listed rock formation Uluru, joined four major cities in locking down to prevent the spread of the delta variant, Reuters reported.

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