The head of the organization also called for an end to “vaccine nationalism,” urging countries to act strategically and globally.
Younger people are driving the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific regional director Takeshi Kasai said Tuesday during a virtual briefing in Geneva.
“The epidemic is changing,” Kasai said. “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread.”
This month WHO officials reported that the proportion of younger people among those infected had spiked worldwide. Yet because many of these people are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms of the disease, they are unaware that they are infected. This “increases the risk of spillover to the more vulnerable,” warned Kasai.
The vulnerable population includes the elderly and people with underlying health issues such as lung problems, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, among other conditions. It also affects people in densely populated areas with weak health services, WHO officials said.
According to Kasai, it is imperative for young people to pay attention to any symptoms they may have, even if they are mild.
“We must redouble efforts to stop the virus from moving into vulnerable communities,” he said, adding that by combining early detection and response to manage infections, countries were better able to reduce disruption to lives and economies.
Prevention is Key
As social-distancing measures were relaxed and national lockdowns were eased, in recent weeks many European countries have reported a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
Data collected by Johns Hopkins University shows the coronavirus pandemic has infected nearly 22 million people worldwide and more than 13.8 million have recovered. The virus has also killed at least 770,000 globally, according to a Reuters tally.
Herd Immunity Not a Solution
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said during the briefing that people should not live “in hope” of achieving herd immunity, the point at which enough of the population has antibodies to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“This is not a solution and not a solution we should be looking to,” he emphasized, adding that the world population is still a long way away from reaching herd immunity.
Cooperation Is Paramount
As the worrisome surge in new cases has some countries racing to find a vaccine for the virus, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for an end to “vaccine nationalism,” urging countries to act strategically and globally, instead of putting their own interests ahead of others.
“[Acting] strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest,” he said Tuesday. “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”