‘The World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020, had declared the novel coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak a global pandemic. At a news briefing, WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted that over the past 2 weeks, the number of cases outside China increased 13-fold and the number of countries with cases increased threefold. Further increases are expected. He said that the WHO is “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” and he called on countries to take action now to contain the virus. “We should double down,” he said. “We should be more aggressive.”’ – Excerpt from the article ‘WHO declares covid-19 a pandemic’ by Domenico Cucinotta, and Maurizio Vanelli
It has been almost two years since covid-19 started, and although a vaccine was reached almost a year ago, acute inequality in terms of its spread, and intellectual property rights (IPRs) inhibitions in raising production and improving the quality of vaccine in a faster way, all meant that new and more potent variants keep appearing. Hence,the WHO Director General advice that ‘we should be more aggressive’ still needs to be properly put in practice, especially rich advanced countries, and vaccine inequality, and IPR-related inhibitions need to be removed at the earliest possible, since ‘no one is safe, unless everyone is.’
A Project Syndicate (PS) article ‘Break the vaccine monopolies now’ pointed in this regard that ‘This month, the world could have been celebrating the waning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, vaccine apartheid and restricted production continue to fuel the spread of the coronavirus. A year has passed since the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved, offering hope that humanity could be liberated from this disease. Scientists did their part by creating safe and effective vaccines with unprecedented speed. But world leaders failed to deliver them to all. Public health experts, developing-country governments, and the People’s Vaccine Alliance warned that persistent low vaccination coverage in large parts of the world would create a risk of new variants and prolong the pandemic.’
Part of the problem with regard to vaccine inequality is that rich, advanced countries, where vaccines are mainly produced, have a significant say in the World Trade Organization (WTO) with regard to removal of IPRs, and unlike the global south, have the means to procure vaccines in abundance and quickly, and have resorted to vaccine hoarding well above their needs, appear to have done this to appease their local voter base, and to keep big pharmaceutical companies, making these vaccines on their good side to keep those election campaign fundings flowing as and when such needs arrive.
The same PS article pointed out in this regard: ‘But rich countries turned a deaf ear, bowing to the pressure of pharmaceutical corporations. Despite receiving huge amounts of public funding to produce the vaccines, these companies still dictate the terms of supply, distribution, and pricing. Pfizer, Moderna, and BioNTech alone are making a profit of $1,000 every second from their COVID-19 vaccines. Putting profits first has resulted in less than 4% of people in low-income countries being fully vaccinated, creating an optimal breeding ground for new variants. Meanwhile, at least five million people have now died of the virus worldwide – though some calculations put the number considerably higher.’
It is important that the mistakes – that have led to deep vaccine inequality, creating strong friction in global economic recovery, especially the global south, and in particular Africa at the back of minimal vaccination coverage – are not repeated in the new year, and a more unified global effort to stop the pandemic comes to the fore
At the same time, while they seem to have achieved higher vaccine coverage, new variants have exposed vulnerabilities in their coverage, which require ever more improved booster shots. Hence, in the larger picture this cycle of new variants and better booster shots, can only be broken if everyone is cared for equally, rather than local populations given more weightage, as has been the case up till now. Therefore, as the writer writes this article on the new year eve, a Financial Times (FT) article ‘Omicron wave hangs over new year celebrations’ pointed out with regard to the latest dangerous Covid-19 variant, Omicron, as follows: ‘A record wave of Covid-19 infections propelled by the spread of the contagious Omicron variant has cast a cloud over New Year’s celebrations around the world… Despite hopes that 2021 would mark a return to normalcy after the pandemic shut down many celebrations last New Year’s Eve, many cities and countries either cancelled or scaled back planned festivities, while urging residents to limit the size of their gatherings.’
Hence, hope will need to be coupled with much better steps to curb the pandemic, or else as a recent Guardian editorial ‘The Guardian view on Covid in 2022: new year, old pandemic’ pointed out, it may very well be that ‘The old year was a reality check for those who believed there was a simple answer to the coronavirus crisis. Don’t be surprised if the new one is the same. …As we bid farewell to the old year on Friday, it ought to be clear to all but the most dogmatic ideologues that 2022 will not be a shining new virus-free era. It will be another volatile mixture, not quite the same as 2021, but not so very different either.’
It is important that the mistakes – that have led to deep vaccine inequality, creating strong friction in global economic recovery, especially the global south, and in particular Africa at the back of minimal vaccination coverage – are not repeated in the new year, and a more unified global effort to stop the pandemic comes to the fore.