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Global COVID-19 death toll tops 4M; WHO condemns vaccine nationalism

"It didn't have to be this way" said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

January 31, 2020
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

July 8 (UPI) -- The global death toll to the coronavirus pandemic has topped 4 million lives lost as the World Health Organization repeats its warning against vaccine nationalism.

According to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University, as of early Thursday 4,001,791 people have died and more than 185 million have been infected during the pandemic.

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Nearly 40% of those deaths can be attributed to the three countries of the United States, Brazil and India. The United States leads the world in deaths with 606,218 million followed by Brazil with 528,540 and India with 405,028 million.

Mexico sits fourth with 234,192.

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The virus first emerged late December 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan before infecting the world over.

Vaccines have seen daily deaths drastically drop in countries that have rolled out campaigns with the United States seeing deaths fall from a high of more than 4,400 in January to 313 on Wednesday.

According to Oxford University's Our World in Data project, more than 3.29 billion doses have been administered since the first vaccine was approved for use late last year.

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However, rich countries have been criticized for buying up all the available doses to inoculate their entire populations while poorer countries have yet to get their vaccine campaigns started. Only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, the project said.

The World Health Organization has for months chastised rich nations over the inequitable access to vaccines, and on Wednesday the U.N. health body's chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said while rich countries are now loosening COVID-19 restrictions as if "the pandemic is already over," people in poor countries continue to battle fast-infecting variants.

"Vaccine nationalism, where a handful of nations have taken the lion's share, is morally indefensible and an ineffective public health strategy against a respiratory virus that is mutating quickly and becoming increasingly effective at moving from human-to-human," he said during a media briefing on the pandemic. "At this stage in the pandemic, the fact that millions of health and care workers have still not been vaccinated is abhorrent."

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The variants, such as the highly contagious Delta strain, is winning the race against vaccines due to the inequitable production, distribution and access to vaccines, he said.

"It didn't have to be this way," Tedros said, "and it doesn't have to be this way going forward."

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On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed this sentiment, stating vaccine equity "is the greatest immediate moral test of our times."

"Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone is under threat," he said via Twitter.

In a statement on Wednesday acknowledging that the grim marker had been surpassed, Guterres called vaccines "a ray of hope."

"But most of the world is still in the shadows. The virus is outpacing vaccine distribution. This pandemic is clearly far from over," he said.

If the virus is allowed to continue to spread, the lives of millions of more people will be put at risk, the U.N. chief said, stating as it spreads the more variants will be born.

"Bridging the vaccine gap requires the greatest global public health effort in history," he said.

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