Omicron Variant Sheds Light On Vaccine Inequality

In the past few weeks, the spread of COVID-19 has been rapidly increasing due to the emergence of a new variant named omicron. First detected by South African scientists in November, the variant has surged globally faster than any other previous form. According to The New York Times, “scientists first recognized Omicron thanks to its distinctive combination of more than 50 mutations. Some of them were carried by earlier variants such as Alpha and Beta, and previous experiments had demonstrated that they could enable a coronavirus to spread quickly.” Omicron was declared a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on November 26th. Since then, it’s been identified in more than 80 countries. 

Those who are fully vaccinated are still largely protected against getting severe disease. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, has said, “the priority in every country and globally must be to protect the least protected, not the most protected.” However, South Africa’s vaccination rate is at a mere 26% this far in the pandemic. Many countries are still struggling to meet the challenges of vaccine administration. According to US News & World Report, Dr. William Moss, a specialist in epidemiology and international health at Johns Hopkins University, speaks of the four D’s that are required in an effective vaccine campaign: doses, delivery, demand, and data: “[H]aving sufficient vaccine supply has been a major challenge […] being able to get vaccines that are in the country into the arms of people requires a cold chains system and a transport system (as well as) health care workers to be able to deliver them.” 

Even if there are enough health care workers to deliver the vaccines, the question of the supply still remains. In first world countries like the United States where, excluding people against vaccinations, many are able to be fully vaccinated and are even receiving booster shots at this point, the problem of vaccine inequality remains clear. 

Low-income countries have received 0.6% of the nearly 8 billion shots, according to the WHO. Though the U.S. has donated more vaccines than anybody else, vaccine inequality still remains a huge issue. According to NBC News, many experts are calling for “line-swapping,” which refers to wealthy countries allowing poorer ones to jump ahead of them in the manufacturer’s distribution list in order to fix the disparity. 

No individual country can solve this pandemic alone. If wealthy countries like the U.S. and England aren’t up to the task of donating more vaccines, rather than letting them expire, this pandemic will never end. More variants will spread, as seen in the Delta variant emerging from India earlier this year. The solution is to distribute more vaccines and amp up vaccine production, as well as sharing intellectual property on how vaccines can be made, according to NBC News. Overall, wealthy countries need to be concentrating all resources in ensuring poorer nations have a shot at beating the pandemic, otherwise we’re all going to be stuck wearing masks and quarantining for a lot longer than anticipated.