* Delta variant, first identified in India, fast becoming

* WHO scientist had expected more from CureVac shot

* Africa trajectory ‘concerning’ amid dearth of vaccines
(Adds details, comments from WHO officials)

GENEVA, June 18 (Reuters) – The Delta variant of COVID-19,
first identified in India, is becoming the globally dominant
variant of the disease, the World Health Organization’s chief
scientist said on Friday.

Soumya Swaminathan also voiced disappointment in the failure
of CureVac’s vaccine candidate in a trial to meet the
WHO’s efficacy standard, in particular as highly transmissible
variants boost the need for new, effective shots.

Britain 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.

The Kremlin 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,” Swaminathan told a news conference.

Coronavirus variants were cited by CureVac when the German
company this week reported its vaccine proved only 47% effective
at preventing disease, shy of the WHO’s 50% benchmark.

The company said it documented at least 13 variants
circulating within its study population.

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.

“Just because it’s another mRNA vaccine, we cannot presume
all mRNA vaccines are the same, because each one has a slightly
different technology,” Swaminathan said, adding the surprise
failure underscored the value of robust clinical trials to test
new products.

WHO officials said Africa remains an area of concern, even
though it accounts for only around 5% of new global infections
and 2% of deaths.

New cases in Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda have
doubled in the last week, WHO emergencies programme head Mike
Ryan said, while vaccine access remains miniscule.

“It’s a trajectory that is very, very concerning,” Ryan
said. “The brutal reality is that in an era of multiple
variants, with increased transmissibility, we have left vast
swathes of the population, the vulnerable population of Africa,
unprotected by vaccines.”
(Reporting by John Miller, writing by Giles Elgood, Editing by
Catherine Evans and Michael Shields)