Wealthy countries must shift their attack to the developing world, says vaccine expert

One of the protagonists behind the Covax vaccine initiative questioned why rich countries are strengthen their strengthening programs In response to the Omicron variant, emphasis should be placed on transplanting large numbers of people worldwide who are still waiting for the first shot.

“The most important thing is that we still need to be vaccinated. . . Seth Berkley, executive director of the Gavi vaccine alliance that helped create the UN-backed Covax program.

In South Africa, where there is an increase in coronavirus cases is associated with the strain Omicron, less than a third of people have had at least one injection. According to the World Health Organization, only 5% of people in African Union member states were vaccinated twice by mid-November.

The US and UK this week launched booster vaccinations for all adults as global health officials grow increasingly worried about the mutated strain of coronavirus first detected in southern Africa. Unusually, the UK offers refills only three months after the second injection, while most countries require a gap of at least six months.

“Where is the science that the three-month booster makes sense?” Berkley said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Scientists and health officials have long said that uneven vaccine coverage increases the likelihood of new complex variants.

Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said the health agency had been warning “for months” that unfair distribution of vaccines would increase the risk of mutations and new variants.

Seth Berkley, executive director of the Gavi . Vaccine Alliance
Seth Berkley, chief executive of the Gavi vaccine alliance, said: ‘Where is the science that three months’ boosters make sense?’ © Marta Perez / EFE / Alamy

“If we used the vaccines that have been produced so far in a rational and fair way, we wouldn’t see a high mortality rate, two years after the pandemic,” she said. ” she said. “Even now, it’s not too late to act. We need vulnerable and high-risk populations everywhere for urgent protection.”

Covax was formed last year with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, Gavi and the World Health Organization to help secure vaccines for developing countries.

To date, the program has delivered 582 million doses. But it has suffered from a lack of transparency by drug manufacturers, production problem, export bans and what Berkley says is “hoarding” by richer countries.

While it remains unclear whether existing vaccines will provide the same level of protection against Omicrons as they did with earlier strains, Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel predicts there are vaccines will be much less effective, although other manufacturers such as Oxford / AstraZeneca and BioNTech / Pfizer are more optimistic.

With Moderna and Pfizer working on new vaccines to target a variation which WHO has said sets out a “very high risk,” said developing countries are at risk of being left behind again.

We must do everything we can to avoid a scenario of vaccine 2.0 nationalism developing, where rich countries are forced to provide new vaccines, adapted variants if a vaccine is required, he added. specific”.

“Only with Delta do they [rich countries] realize that if they don’t protect the developing world, they risk having these new variations. “

However, Airfinity, a health analytics company, says it’s a best-case scenario where all manufacturers quickly scale up production and shift their focus entirely to other Covid-19 vaccines. , it will not be until October next year, 6 billion doses of the vaccine targeting Omicron will be made available.

Countries around the world have moved to impose travel bans on southern Africa in response to the threat posed by Omicron, although WHO has warned that borders should remain open and testing and submissions strategically deployed.

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