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December 17, 2021

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Vaccine nationalism worsens pandemic

THE spread of the heavily mutated coronavirus variant Omicron this month has once again demonstrated that a self-serving approach in distributing COVID-19 vaccines or “vaccine nationalism” is neutralizing global efforts in fighting the pandemic.

Many countries are in crying need of vaccine doses while some rich countries are stockpiling. Epidemiologists believe that the low vaccination rate in the African continent has forged a hotbed for the virus mutations. It was echoed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said in a tweet last month that the Omicron variant “reflects the threat of prolonged vaccine injustice.”

There is a huge “immunization gap” in Africa, as its overall vaccination rate was lower than one fifth of the global average. Only five African countries, less than 10 percent of Africa’s 54 nations, are projected to hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their people, according to the WHO's estimate in October.

On the contrary, the situation is starkly different in some rich countries.

The United States had reportedly already secured enough coronavirus vaccines to fully immunize 750 million people, well over the number of American adults, and millions of vaccine shots in the United States stood at the risk of spoiling.

The US has shipped only 25 percent or about 300 million of the 1.2 billion doses it has promised to donate as of December 7, according to data of the US State Department. Besides, most of its exports have gone to higher-income countries.

The mutation would have slowed down had more vaccine doses been administered in less-developed countries.

The latest data from Israel indicate that COVID-19 vaccination is almost as effective at preventing infection with Omicron as it is with Delta, but those not inoculated may have a 2.4 times greater chance of developing serious symptoms.

Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, reportedly deemed Omicron “a wake-up call about vaccine inequity.”

Besides, the “America First” approach has also boomeranged. At least 22 US states have reported Omicron cases as of December 10, posing the risk of a new surge in COVID-19 cases in the country.


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