WHO Says Delta COVID Variant from India Spreading in Over 60 Countries

WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said the delta variant first found in India has now been seen in over 60 countries and is more transmissible than the alpha variant found in Britain, the Associated Press reported.

Kerkhove blamed "worrying trends of increased transmissibility, increasing social mixing, relaxing of public health and social measures, and eleven and inequitable vaccine distribution around the world."

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO's emergencies chief, said over 80 percent of people would need to be vaccinated "where you could be significantly affecting the risk of imported cases potentially generating secondary cases or causing a cluster or an outbreak."

"So it does require quite high levels of vaccination," Ryan said. "Particularly in the context of more transmissible variants, to be on the safe side."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

WHO Maria van Kerkhove
World Health Organization's technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, Maria van Kerkhove gestures during an interview with AFP in Geneva on October 13, 2020. Richard Juilliart/Getty Images

Many rich countries have been moving to vaccinate teenagers and children—who have a lower risk of more dangerous cases of COVID-19 than the elderly or people with comorbidities—even as those same countries face pressure to share vaccines with poorer ones that lack them.

Britain, which has vastly reduced case counts thanks to an aggressive vaccination campaign, has seen a recent uptick in cases attributed largely to the so-called delta variant that originally appeared in India—a former British colony.

Ryan acknowledged that the data wasn't fully clear about what percentage of vaccination coverage was necessary to fully have an impact on transmission.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, called on leaders of the developed Group of Seven countries to help the UN-backed vaccination program against COVID-19 to boost access to doses in the developing world.

With G7 leaders set to meet in England later this week, Tedros said they could help meet his target that at least 10 percent of the populations in every country are vaccinated by the end of September—and 30 percent by year-end.

"To reach these targets, we need an additional 250 million doses by September, and we need hundreds of million doses just in June and July," he said, alluding to the summit involving Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

"These seven nations have the power to meet these targets. I'm calling on the G7 not just to commit to sharing those, but to commit to sharing them in June and July."

At a time of continued tight supply of vaccines, Tedros also called on manufacturers to give the "first right of refusal" on new vaccine volumes to the UN-backed COVAX program or to commit half of their volumes to COVAX this year.

He warned of a "two-track pandemic," with mortality among older age groups declining in countries with higher vaccination rates even as rates have risen in the Americas, Africa and the Western Pacific region.

WHO Dr. Michael Ryan
In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 file photo, Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies program, speaks during a news conference at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Ryan said he estimates that worldwide COVID-19 vaccination coverage of over 80% is needed to significantly lower the chance that an imported coronavirus case could spawn a cluster or a wider outbreak. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Associated Press