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Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads: WHO

The Delta variant has been detected in 132 countries, becoming the dominant global strain, according to the WHO.

July 30, 2021 / 10:45 PM IST

The world is at risk of losing hard-won gains in fighting COVID-19 as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads, but WHO-approved vaccines remain effective, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease, the Washington Post said, citing an internal CDC document.

COVID-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. Deaths in Africa - where only 1.5% of the population is vaccinated - rose by 80% over the same period.

"Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed," Tedros told a news conference.

The Delta variant has been detected in 132 countries, becoming the dominant global strain, according to the WHO.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"The vaccines that are currently approved by the WHO all provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation from all the variants, including the Delta variant," said WHO's top emergency expert, Mike Ryan.

"We are fighting the same virus but a virus that has become faster and better adapted to transmitting amongst us humans, that's the change," he said.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said the Delta variant was the most easily spread so far, about 50% more transmissible than ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2 that first emerged in China in late 2019.

A few countries had reported increased hospitalisation rates, but higher rates of mortality had not been recorded from the Delta variant, she said.

Japan said on Friday it would expand states of emergency to three prefectures near Olympic host city Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, as COVID-19 cases spike in the capital and around the country, overshadowing the Summer Games.

Ryan noted that Tokyo had recorded more than 3,000 cases in the past 24 hours, among some 10,000 new infections in Japan.

"The Olympics is a part of that overall context and the risk management that is place around the Olympics is extremely comprehensive," he said.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Reuters
first published: Jul 30, 2021 10:45 pm
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