The Gleaner

Omicron variant is a reminder of global inequality

If bad Hollywood writers were drafting a screenplay about a pandemic, the climax to the movie would likely read an awful lot like the events of this past week: Just as people were beginning to see a way out of a pandemic and were mass-vaccinating their children, the virus would mutate. Not only that, but the variant would be given a name that made it sound entirely alien.

I apologize if it seems like I am making light of the emergence of a potentially more infectious variant in Omicron. I fully recognize how difficult this news was to receive by some, and I am aware of the concerns about mutations that, according to scientists, could compromise vaccine efficacy. We should be worried, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

In fact, the World Health Organization and specialists around the world have been cautioning rich countries such as Canada about this possibility for months. Canada is one of the countries involved in stocking the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility with excess vaccines, which can be delivered to countries in need to ensure those populations are adequately protected. Canada has promised to donate 200 million vaccines to COVAX by the end of 2022. 8.3 million surplus vaccines have already been delivered.

Many countries have made similar promises. And yet, a country such as South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first recognized, has only managed to vaccinate 24 per cent of its population. By the end of October, just six per cent of the African population was vaccinated.

What we are seeing play out is a gross example of global disparity. The virus is better able to spread and potentially mutate in large populations of developing countries, which are not being afforded the same protection as their wealthier counterparts.

Unfortunately, it is not only vaccines that are in short supply, as areas around the world are now facing a shortage of syringes and other vaccine commodities. Now that most high-income countries have succeeded in hitting vaccination targets, any solution to the pandemic will have to focus on levelling rates across the globe. Here, we can and should focus on vaccinating children, and on ensuring we follow the safety measures in place to safeguard against this new variant. It’s what we can contribute to ensuring the story of this pandemic ends sooner rather than later.  Sarah Rennie

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