The global fight against coronavirus needs to “move more quickly” by halting transmissions and vaccinating everywhere, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeated a warning that a "two-track" pandemic is emerging due to the unequal distribution of vaccines.
He highlighted a number of stark figures that show the deadly impact of the inequality:
Deaths in Africa have risen by 32% in the past week alone,
Less than 2% of the continent has been vaccinated.
More than half of all high and upper-middle income countries have vaccinated at least 20% of their populations.
Just three low and lower-middle income countries have reached the same level.
Watch: COVID vaccine inequality creates a 'two-track pandemic', says WHO chief
On Friday, Dr Tedros said: “Vaccines donated next year will be far too late for those who are dying today, or being infected today, or at risk today."
He said the WHO expected “things to only get worse” in terms of Africa’s cases and death tolls.
Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said: "I think we’re seeing a shifting and changing landscape, in which the emergence of variants, because of unchecked community transmission, is leading to challenges in the health system, it’s leading to challenges in vaccine development and in demonstrating vaccine efficacy.
“So we need to move more quickly than we’re moving right now in terms of both suppressing transmission and in distributing the benefits of vaccines everywhere.”
The warnings came as the WHO's chief scientist said that the Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, is becoming the globally dominant variant of the disease.
The UK has reported a steep rise in infections with the Delta variant, while Germany's top public health official predicted it would rapidly become the dominant variant there despite rising vaccination rates.
Russia has blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on reluctance to have vaccinations and "nihilism" after record new infections in Moscow, mostly with the new Delta variant, fanned fears of a third wave.
"The Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally because of its increased transmissibility," the WHO's Soumya Swaminathan told a news conference.
This week, German COVID-19 vaccine CureVac was found to only be 47% effective against coronavirus.
Given that similar mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna posted efficacy rates topping 90%, Swaminathan said the world had been expecting more from CureVac's candidate.
The EU had ordered up to 400 million doses of the vaccine, while the UK had ordered 50 million.
CureVac identified at least 13 coronavirus variants in its study of 40,000 people.
Dr Ryan said: “The bar is being raised by the virus for this next generation of vaccines that we will need.”
He added: “We need to use the vaccines we have, distribute them equitably, and ensure we continue to suppress transmission.
“We’ve seen this in Brazil, we’ve seen similar issues in Paraguay and other countries recently that even with the health system doing a great job to scale up its capacity, once you get very intense community transmission, health systems come under pressure again, regardless of the variant causing the problem.”
Watch: Global COVID-19 casualties pass 4 million