Covid-19 deaths fell to their lowest level in almost a year last week at nearly 50,000 fatalities, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
Covid deaths are declining in every region except Europe, but vaccine inequities continue to plague much of the developing world. Tedros said 56 countries have yet to reach the WHO’s goal of vaccinating 10% of their populations against Covid by the end of September, adding that reported deaths have been highest in countries with the least access to Covid shots.
“It’s still an unacceptably high level, almost 50,000 deaths a week,” Tedros said at a Covid-19 briefing. “And the real number is certainly higher.”
Three countries – Burundi, Eritrea and North Korea – have yet to start distributing vaccines, Tedros said, noting that the majority of the 56 countries with vaccination rates under 10% are in Africa. Half of the 52 African countries with Covid vaccines have fully immunized 2% or less of their populations, according to a WHO report from Sept. 30.
Tedros said last Thursday that high- and upper-middle-income countries have used 75% of all Covid shots developed during the pandemic, while less than 5% of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated. He called Wednesday for wealthy nations to stop distributing Covid booster shots to help meet WHO’s goal of immunizing 40% of every country by the end of the year.
“Reaching 40% needs a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, which depends on political and civil society leadership,” Tedros said.
WHO officials have denounced the global rollout of Covid boosters for weeks in hopes of reallocating surplus vaccines to low-income countries and blocking the emergence of future outbreaks and variants. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined last week’s WHO Covid briefing to condemn global vaccine inequities as “immoral” and “stupid,” adding that low vaccination rates in the global south could fuel the mutation of vaccine-resistant Covid variants.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that unvaccinated individuals are 11 times likelier to die from Covid and 10 times more likely to require hospitalization for their symptoms. Unvaccinated people are roughly 4.5 times likelier to catch Covid as well, the CDC found.