Omicron variant spotlights real danger of global vaccine inequality

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, December 3, 2021
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As new COVID-19 variant Omicron makes its way to more countries, and has renewed concerns about its health impacts, experts have warned that its emergence is a stark reminder of the real danger of global vaccine inequality.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier this week that this new variant with worrying mutations, first reported in largely unvaccinated southern Africa, carried a very high risk of infection surges around the globe.

Since the first case of Omicron reported to the WHO by South Africa on Nov. 24, cases of Omicron have been reported in multiple countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

"While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world's population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged," Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, or The Vaccine Alliance, a leading partner in the global vaccine sharing program COVAX, said in a statement to Xinhua.

"One of the key factors to emergence of variants may well be low vaccination rates in parts of the world," said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global vaccine partnership, told Xinhua he is very concerned that the existence of unprotected populations creates an environment where the emergence of mutants is more likely.

"I think that's what we have seen with the emergence of Omicron," he said.

So far, many countries, most of which are in Africa and the Middle East, may fall behind the WHO's strategy to vaccinate 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70 percent by mid-2022.

Noting that very few of the lowest income countries have vaccinated more than 5-6 percent of their population, Hatchett said "the delay in vaccines getting to them has really been intolerable."

"The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue," said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, referring to the deadly result of vaccine inequality.

At the Global COVID-19 Summit in September hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, a December target of 40-percent vaccination was set for the 92 poorest countries. Two and a half months on, there is little chance of this target being met in at least 82 of them.

Data from Airfinity, a London-based provider of global real-time health intelligence and analytics, showed that many rich countries have failed to meet their vaccine donation promises.

"We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world's population, not just the wealthy parts. The world needs to work together to ensure equitable access to vaccines, now," Berkley said. 

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