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The Variant Threat Is Real

Rather than translating their own COVID-19 vaccination successes into a renewed global push to end the pandemic, rich countries are becoming complacent while the rest of the world grows increasingly desperate. But the emergence of dangerous new variants threatens everyone.

STOCKHOLM – It has now been 18 months since the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first sequenced in China. Within a month, the World Health Organization had issued its highest possible global alert, declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Weeks later, the WHO declared a pandemic. Yet we are nowhere near the end of the crisis. On the contrary, we have entered a dangerous new phase in its evolution.

While complacency sets in among richer, more vaccinated countries, a cloud of despair has descended on lower-income countries that lack the means to fight new variants of the virus. And, after reporting declining numbers of new infections for seven consecutive weeks, the WHO is now recording an increase in confirmed cases practically everywhere. In its weekly epidemiological update on July 6, for example, it found that there had been a 30% increase in COVID-19 incidence in Europe, even though the European Union had delivered enough vaccine doses to immunize 70% of all adults.

The reason for this global resurgence is well known. The Delta variant, now identified in 111 countries, is significantly more contagious than previous strains of SARS-CoV-2, and it is spreading very fast. The rise of new variants serves as a reminder that we are dealing with a living organism that can and will evolve in response to the measures (and half-measures) that we deploy to fight it.

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