Omicron: End jab inequity

Omicron: End jab inequity

A health worker prepares to administer a Covid-19 vaccine in Nyeri town on September 20, 2021.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

The global attention around the Covid-19 pandemic has been shifted to the latest variant — Omicron. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as a “variant of concern” — highly transmissible and even lethal. Like the Delta variant, Omicron is spreading rapidly with several countries as far afield as Canada, Japan, Australia and the UK reporting its presence.

However, wealthy nations’ imposition of travel restrictions on southern Africa is a knee-jerk defensive reaction that only highlights the failure to vaccinate the world equally as a preventive measure.

The WHO says the first case of Omicron infection was detected in a sample collected on November 9. Then, as expected, and rightly so, the South African authorities alerted the world about the new strain on November 24.

That implies the variant was already in circulation. The travel restrictions are, therefore, futile as they will not stop transmission in today’s highly interconnected world. At best, they will buy time to allow heightened surveillance.

Hoarding of vaccines

Unfortunately, the restrictions translate to punishing South Africa for using the power of their sophisticated genomic sequencing facilities to detect the variant faster. The sequencing of the coronavirus in the early days unraveled its genetic constitution, which vaccine manufacturers relied on to develop vaccines in a record time of under a year.

Now, the latest crisis to haunt the world is hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries, causing insufficient supply to the third world. Omicron is a stark reminder that, with this vaccine inequity, the war against Covid-19 will remain protracted with no end in sight.

In South Africa, just 24 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, which is not sufficient to confer appreciable levels of herd immunity. On a grimmer note, only seven per cent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Should wealthy nations fulfill their commitment to deliver a billion doses to low-income countries, the latter must make the jabs easily accessible.

Dr Kerima is a biochemist. @KerimaZablon