OMICRON Variant Exposes Covid Vaccine Imbalances

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While back in January 2021, James Paton wrote on Bloomberg about the global gaps in Covid-19 vaccine access and health experts predicted then that “the continued spread of the coronavirus will breed more dangerous versions of the pathogen, weakening medical weapons and further crippling economies”.

Disparities in immunity pose a threat to both have and have-not states. Giving the coronavirus an opportunity to advance and generate new mutants would have significant economic and public-health consequences, adding to the pain as the death toll surpasses 2 million.

– Bloomberg News, January 2021

Now, the emergence of Omicron variant in South Africa, with only 45% of people vaccinated, once again draws attention between rich and poor nations. Glenda Gray, head the South African Medical Research Council, warned that “until we vaccinate enough people we’re going to have this happen over and over again”.

“Her comments underscored one of the major challenges facing global efforts to curb the pandemic: the contrasts between wealthy nations with plentiful vaccines — and even booster shots — and many poorer regions struggling to get vaccines and unable to fully distribute them”, writes Lesley Wroughton in the Washington Post.

In CNN Health, Ivana Kottasova writes: “Many of the world’s richest countries have spent the past year hoarding coronavirus vaccines, buying up enough doses to vaccinate their populations several times over and consistently failing to deliver on their promises to share doses with the developing world”, which The World Health Organization (WHO) reportedly said was “immoral” and ‘self-defeating’.

Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, told in a CNN phone interview that emergence of new variants was “a natural consequence of being too slow to vaccinate the world.”

“It has probably emerged in another country and has been detected in South Africa, which has very, very good genomic sequencing capacity and capability … it might well be a consequence of an outbreak, probably in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where there’s not a huge amount of genomic surveillance going on and vaccination rate is low.”

Dr. Head reportedly predicted that “we still have large unvaccinated populations, like we have across sub-Saharan Africa, and these are susceptible to big outbreaks”.

“One contribution to this is the richer countries hoarding doses above and beyond of what we actually need and not following through on commitments to donate vaccines to COVAX or directly to countries themselves,” Dr. Head said.

Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, told CNN that the the richer countries reaction to emergence of Omicron was an example of its own selfishness.

“What I found disgusting and really distressing … was not just the travel ban being implemented by the UK and Europe but that that was the only reaction, or the strongest reaction.”

“There was no word of support that they’re going to offer to African countries to help us control the pandemic and particularly no mention of addressing this vaccine inequity that we have been warning about all year and [of which] we are now seeing the consequences play out,” Dr. Lessells told CNN.

Coronavirus-19 vaccination watch

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID vaccination tracker page (as of Nov 30, 9 a.m.) 573,238,255 doses have been distributed and 460,773,508 doses administered. According MDH COVID-19 Response vaccine data (as of Nov 28) a total of 7,825,008 doses of Covid-19 (Pfizer & Moderna) vaccines have been administered in Minnesota. According to the MDH latest tally (as of Nov 30) the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are 912,370 (out of 14,896,979 tested) with 9,382 deaths.