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When South Africa and Botswana reported the new variant for the first time, the international response was swift, albeit not in a coordinated manner: Within a very short time, individual states in Europe and the USA practically closed their borders for people from southern Africa – even before the World Health Organization (WHO) did this warned individual snap shots. Too little is currently known about the new variant, it said.
The WHO said on Tuesday that they understand the concerns about the new variant. At the same time, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “But I am also concerned that several Member States are introducing blanket measures that are neither evidence-based nor effective in themselves and that will only exacerbate inequalities.”
“Discrimination” for a transparent approach?
Even after a week, there are still many questions unanswered – be it about transmission and the danger from Omikron, the effectiveness of the vaccine or its origin. In South Africa, the main point is that the new variant has been handled transparently: “We did this to protect our country and the world – even if we might be discriminated against for it,” wrote the South African researcher Tulio de Oliveira on Twitter last week.
“Wake up call” for global vaccine distribution
While the politicians in South Africa accordingly sharply criticize the travel restrictions, reference is made at the same time to the devastating injustice in the distribution of vaccines – and the associated health consequences. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said Omikron was a “wake up call” regarding the imbalance in vaccinations.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also pointed out the inequalities: “The people in Africa cannot be held responsible for the unspeakably low level of vaccinations available there – and they should not be punished for identifying and providing important scientific and health information share the world. “
A look at the statistics, even with possible differences in the data situation, paints a clear picture: Africa could not count on widespread vaccination protection even with the Delta variant – and will probably be on its own with Omikron too. South Africa still has one of the higher vaccination rates at over 20 percent – according to a “New York Times” article, however, there are problems with distribution despite the available doses. Other states lack “refrigerators, logistical infrastructure and medical personnel to vaccinate the population,” according to the US newspaper.
“It is not enough to donate vaccine doses”
According to the WHO, more than 90 million vaccine doses have been donated worldwide as part of the Covax and AVATT aid programs. The majority of the donations were made relatively spontaneously. China recently announced that it would donate a total of 600 million cans, with another 400 million to be jointly produced.
While the USA and China are at odds over who has donated more vaccine doses to Africa, the problem clearly goes beyond the mere delivery. The Italian Minister of Health Roberto Speranza also said on Monday: “It is not enough to donate vaccine doses, we have to give concrete support to those who do not have structured and comprehensive health care like us.”
NGOs are demanding patent release
The longer-term production of vaccines is also an issue. Practically since the introduction of the first vaccines, patent release has been discussed – this would have to be initiated by the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but some states, including some EU states, oppose the necessary three-quarters majority. Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck (ÖVP) justified her no at the beginning of November: “It is not a problem of production, enough vaccine is produced, it is a problem of distribution.”
NGOs criticize the blockade, and well-known doctors have called for the patents to be released. The globalization-critical NGO Attac, for example, quotes the epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner: “The pandemic can only be defeated globally. It is therefore not only a moral duty, but also a question of self-interest that vaccines are globally available and distributed fairly. ”And the South African Doctors Without Borders expert Candice Sehom also said with regard to the Omikron variant, that this is “a telling example” of “how this virus continues to mutate, especially when there is no fair access to the right medical products against Covid-19.”
WHO insists on a global solution
No matter how the vaccination rate is ultimately increased in Africa: Vaccination is probably an essential factor in combating the pandemic. Because regardless of where they arise: Mutations, as the experience of the last two years shows, can usually be found worldwide within a very short time. Even with quick individual actions to close the borders, cases elsewhere could not be prevented.
For the WHO, too, only one global solution is conceivable: “No country can vaccinate itself out of the pandemic on its own. The longer the vaccine inequality continues, the more opportunities the virus will have to spread and develop in ways we can neither predict nor prevent. We are all affected together, “said WHO chief Tedros.
“Pandemic Pact” is still a long way off
To this end, the 194 members of the WHO decided on Wednesday to conclude a global pact to better prepare for future pandemics. Tedros said this is to help prevent a “me first” mentality in many countries like the one in the current pandemic. The aim is an agreement that is legally binding.
However, the pact will probably only be ready in two and a half years. A working group is supposed to start deliberations before March 1 of next year. However, the results should not be presented until the WHO’s annual meeting in spring 2024. However, the pandemic to date has also shown that time is an essential factor – the “solidarity required to meet a global threat” demanded by Tedros for the pact will therefore be in demand even before 2024.
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