Imagine that everyone living in Chicago died of a deadly disease. The world passed this grim milestone on Saturday, according to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 tracker, which has officially recorded 3 million Covid-19 deaths around the globe — roughly 300,000 more people than all the current residents of the Windy City.
The number comes as some governments have begun ramping up vaccinations while simultaneously racing against outbreaks of multiple variants of the virus. As some may be beginning to sense an end to the pandemic, the virus still continues to spread at an alarming rate globally.
Globally, new infections are up recently, according to the Associated Press, averaging more than 700,000 cases and 12,000 deaths a day.
“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 leaders, told the AP.
The death toll is accelerating, as the world passed 2 million deaths just two months ago. Brazil is an outlier for its Covid-19 death rate, accounting for about 3,000 deaths daily, approximately a quarter of the global daily death count. The country’s alarming mortality rate can largely be attributed to President Jair Bolsonaro and his Health Ministry’s tepid response to the virus. The Brazilian president has consistently opposed lockdowns and only recently came around to accepting vaccines as a means of fighting the pandemic.
In the US, the vaccination rate continues to grow, with 206 million doses administered as of Saturday, according to a Bloomberg report. But while wealthier countries may be eyeing a vaccine-facilitated end to the pandemic, less economically fortunate areas have been left waiting.
Countries are vaccinating, but at different speeds
Vaccinations are being administered in about 190 countries worldwide, but some, like the US and the UK, are well ahead of less developed nations. Of the 700 million jabs administered worldwide, 87 percent have gone to high-income or upper middle-income countries, according to comments last Friday from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a Covid-19 vaccine,” he said at a press briefing. “In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500.”
While the US and some western European countries have vaccination programs well underway, American drug companies have been waging a battle to preserve intellectual property rights over their vaccine formulas for as long as possible. This means that cheaper, generic vaccines are not yet available for widespread manufacturing in less developed countries.
In February, India and South Africa appealed to the World Trade Organization to issue an intellectual property waiver on Covid-19 vaccines that would facilitate more widespread production of the shots. That move, however, was blocked by wealthier Western countries, who argued that it would stifle innovation.
Recently, 10 Democratic and progressive senators wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to lobby the WTO to relax Covid-19 vaccine IP rules. “Simply put, we must make vaccines, testing, and treatments accessible everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere,” the letter read.
Though Biden hasn’t yet made a decision one way or the other, the White House said it was studying the issue.
In the meantime, variants continue to spread, and US health officials worry about a recent decline in testing, which is critical to detecting new variants, as more and more Americans turn their attention toward getting vaccinated.
“I think the testing pillar of the pandemic response is still as vital as it’s ever been,” Joseph Petrosino, chair of molecular virology and microbiology at the Baylor College of Medicine, told Vox’s Umair Irfan last month. “Not only do we need to test, we need to start identifying which variants of the virus are spreading in a given area.”