On the second anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a coronavirus pandemic, a group of more than 130 scientists, world leaders, activists and celebrities has published an open letter calling for an end to vaccine monopolies.
The list includes Prince Harry and Meghan, duchess of Sussex, and South Africa–born actress Charlize Theron and was coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, in an effort to get vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
“Sadly, despite what some leaders in wealthy countries would like us to believe, the pandemic is not over,” says the letter. “But it is within our grasp to end it and ensure everyone is protected.
“That requires giving everyone, everywhere access to safe and effective vaccines and other life-saving COVID-19 technologies. This is possible, thanks to the incredible advances of science and the public investment of governments around the world.”
Ban Ki-moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations, said rich countries and their leaders are protecting pharmaceutical monopolies in the areas of vaccines, diagnostics and therapies over the health and lives of billions of people.
“That is why this is a historic test of multilateralism. It truly affects us all. And, if world leaders can’t rise to the challenge of vaccine equity, they diminish hope that they will rise to the existential challenge of tackling the climate crisis,” said Ban, who is among the open letter’s signatories.
Also on the anniversary, a University of Washington research team estimates the true number of deaths from COVID since the start of the pandemic is about three times higher than official figures suggest. In a new study published in the Lancet, researchers said the number was closer to 18 million at the end of 2021, at a time when official reports counted 5.9 million.
The difference is due to undercounts in official statistics, and incomplete reporting or poor data collection in may countries.
“Understanding the true death toll from the pandemic is vital for effective public health decision-making,” study co-author Haidong Wang, a demographer and population health expert at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, told the Journal Nature.
The World Health Organization has telegraphed several times this week its concern that many countries are moving fast to end COVID restrictions, even as large parts of the world have low vaccination rates and have warned that could allow new variants to emerge.
“The virus continues to evolve and the risk of future emergence of variants is high,” the agency said in a statement Monday.
In the U.S., numbers continue to decline, and the nation is now averaging 35,796 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 51% from two weeks ago. The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 32,017, down 44% from two weeks ago. Deaths are averaging 1,2,93 a day, down 31% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.
The situation is not the same elsewhere, however.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• China on Friday ordered a lockdown of the 9 million residents of the northeastern city of Changchun amid a new spike in COVID-19 cases in the area, the Associated Press reported. Residents are required to remain home and undergo three rounds of mass testing, while non-essential businesses have been closed and transport links suspended.
China reported another 397 cases of local transmission nationwide on Friday, 98 of them in Jilin province that surrounds Changchun.
• Hong Kong is doubling down on its Zero Covid policy as it struggles to cope with a high caseload and the highest death rate in the world, ABC News reported. About 3,231 people have died as of Friday in Hong Kong’s current wave, which began at the start of this year, compared with just 213 reported deaths in the first two years of the pandemic. Hong Kong’s unvaccinated elderly have accounted for the vast majority of recent deaths. Only 30% of Hong Kong’s over-80s were fully vaccinated when the fifth wave hit in late 2021.
• German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned on Friday that Germany will fail to get the coronavirus pandemic under control and will be in the same situation as now by autumn if the government does not put in place a general vaccine mandate, Reuters reported. The comment came as Germany counted 252,836 new infections, after hitting a record of 262,752 daily cases on Thursday.
• COVID cases are rising in all four of the countries that make up the United Kingdom, according to the Guardian. About one in 25 people in England is estimated to have had COVID last week, compared with 1 in 30 the week before. In Scotland, the figures suggest about one in 18 had COVID in the most recent week, while in Northern Ireland and Wales it was one in 13 and one in 30 respectively, suggesting infection levels are rising in all countries in the UK.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 453.6 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.03 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 79.5 million cases and 965,465 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 216.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.2% of the population. But just 95.6 million are boosted, equal to 44.2% of the vaccinated population.