Omicron: the price to pay for inequality

Omicron: the price to pay for inequality

The new SARS-CoV-2 variant, the virus that causes COVID-19, called omicron, has the world on edge, it is no surprise that it caught nations off guard due to the poor decisions that have been made about the pandemic.

Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, spokeswoman for the African Alliance for Vaccine Delivery, has indicated that the appearance of this variant “was inevitable”, as it is due “to the lack of vaccination caused by the hoarding of vaccines by the developed countries”.

Unequal access to vaccination technologies – both for their development and purchase – has been a problem that multiple health organizations have pointed out since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were still no immunization options.

However, companies have refused to release patents so that all countries can produce their vaccines, and governments of the richest nations have bought excessive amounts of doses, in many cases more than are needed to vaccinate their entire population.

Although some of these countries have donated vaccines for poor countries, the deliveries have been far from being sufficient to be able to speak of equitable access to these technologies, essential to face the health emergency, which was recently reactivated, first, with a fourth wave of infections in Europe, and later, with the identification of the omicron variant.

The result of inequality 

Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija gave an interview to the British network BBC, in which she was blunt: the appearance of this strain was inevitable. And continued on: “if the COVID-19 that appeared in China had appeared first in Africa, there is no doubt that the world would have locked us up and thrown the key very far away.”

This, she argued, because “there would have been no urgency to develop vaccines because we (Africans) would have been expendable.”

In this way, the scientist explains that the appearance of omicron was not only inevitable, but predictable, since the global vaccination process was not done fairly, urgently and quickly, as it should have been.

Vaccine hoarding was going to lead the world to more dangerous variants, or at least variants beyond the reach of vaccines already developed, Olatunbosun-Alakija said. This is something that many other organizations, such as AHF, had already pointed out through their vaccinateourworld.org campaign through our Manifesto to the G20 Leaders to release patents for vaccines, share technology for the production of immunizations. and increase the capacity for sequencing the variants of SARS-COV2 and prioritize international cooperation and make every political effort in order to Vaccinate Our World.

A foreseeable threat

Although very little time has passed since omicron was identified (November 24) and there are still no certainties about its degree of danger, the scenario facing the world today could have been anticipated.

The Vaccinate our world campaign, promoted by AHF, has pointed this out for months: “If the immoral disparity in vaccine distribution does not outrage you, the serious threat that this represents for the world should.”

The objective of the campaign is to call on governments, vaccine manufacturers and international public health institutions to expand vaccination coverage to the entire planet, a goal that has not been achieved so far, two years after the start of the pandemic and one year since the launch of the first vaccine.

On the occasion of the G20 summit last October, AHF published a manifesto calling on the member countries to take concrete actions to stop the pandemic. At that time, the document denounced, less than 35% of the world’s population was fully vaccinated.

The first action pointes out was to support patent exemptions on vaccines, so that developing countries could produce them for their populations. The second action was to increase access to genome sequencing technology, so that countries could “effectively monitor the emergence and spread of new variants of SARS-CoV-2.

If these two measures had been adopted 100 days before the G20 summit, as stated in the manifesto, the “surprise” caused by the omicron identification would have been avoided, and the response to the pandemic would be more equitable and truly global.

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