WHO revising COVID-19 variant naming to avoid stigmatizing countries

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced changes to how it will label COVID-19 variants on Monday, saying the variants will be named using letters of the Greek alphabet instead of the place where they were first discovered.

The WHO declared that variants of interest and variants of concern will receive a designated Greek letter listed on its website.

Researchers will continue to use the scientific names for each variant, created by Pango and GISAID, because the names include helpful information on the strains.

Why the change: The naming system was developed after the WHO consulted experts from around the world following concerns that labeling the variants by their location of discovery is “stigmatizing” and “discriminatory.”

The international health organization predicts the new system “will be easier and more practical” for nonscientists to use.

“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said in a statement. “As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory.”

“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels,” the statement continued.

New names: The WHO identifies four “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7, the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, which will be called Alpha. The B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa was labeled as Beta, the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil became Gamma and the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India is now Delta.
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WHO Okays Use of China’s COVID Vaccine

The World Health Organization has issued an emergency use listing for the COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac in adults aged 18 and over, the second such authorisation it has granted to a Chinese company.

In a statement Tuesday, the WHO said data submitted to its experts showed that two doses of the vaccine prevented people from getting symptoms of COVID-19 in about half of those who got the vaccine.

WHO said there were few older adults enrolled in the research, so it could not estimate how effective the vaccine was in people over age 60.

“Nevertheless, WHO is not recommending an upper age limit for the vaccine,” the agency said, adding that data collected from Sinovac’s use in other countries “suggest the vaccine is likely to have a protective effect in older persons.”

WHO’s authorisation means the vaccine can be bought by donors and other UN agencies for use in poorer countries, including in the WHO-backed initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines globally known as COVAX.

Last month, WHO gave the green light to the COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinopharm.

It has also licensed vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Inc, and AstraZeneca.

The COVAX effort has been slowed considerably after its biggest supplier in India said it would not be able to provide any more vaccines until the end of the year.

To date, there is no confirmed deal for Sinovac doses with COVAX.

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Ecuador Launches 100 Day Vaccination Plan

Ecuador this week launched a plan to vaccinate 9 million people against the novel coronavirus in 100 days, part of recently installed President Guillermo Lasso’s plan to revive the economy by battling the pandemic.

Lasso recognized that the country needed to acquire further doses from overseas in order to reach that goal, and said the government was in talks with Russia over the purchase of some 18 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

“All of our logistical effort will be successful once we have vaccines,” Lasso said while presenting the plan. “It is urgent, and we depend on the provision of vaccines from abroad.”

Ecuador began its inoculation campaign in January, but former President Lenin Moreno’s administration advanced slowly due to logistical issues, allegations of nepotism in the allocation of shots, and frequent changes of top health officials.

Lasso, a conservative ex-banker who took office on May 24, said he had also asked the United Nations to speed up the delivery of vaccines under the COVAX initiative intended to supply shots to poor countries. The World Health Organization, part of the U.N. system, oversees the program.

The Health Ministry has said that Ecuador has received some 3.5 million doses so far of Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Sinovac (SVA.O) and AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) vaccines.

The South American country’s rollout will use more than 300 spaces that had been equipped to serve as election centers in the recent April vote. The government will deploy mobile vaccination brigades to hard-to-reach rural areas, including the communities of the Amazon region.

Ecuador, with a population of 17.5 million, has reported some 427,690 coronavirus cases and more than 20,620 deaths between confirmed and likely cases.

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WORLD STATS

Coronavirus Cases:

171,944,492

Deaths:

3,576,062

Recovered:

154,455,111
Highlighted in green
= all cases have recovered from the infection
Highlighted in grey
= all cases have had an outcome (there are no active cases)

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June 2 (GMT)

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