The world can prevent variants such as Delta or Omicron only if all of the world’s population is vaccinated and not just the wealthy parts, WHO-backed Gavi’s chief told News18.com, supporting the need for global vaccine equity.
According to Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the vaccine alliance Gavi, the variants will keep coming as long as a large chunk of people remain unvaccinated. “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” he cautioned.
The COVAX programme — the global Covid-19 vaccine-sharing platform — is sponsored by the Gavi vaccine alliance along with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Till date, more than 563 million (56.3 crore) vaccines have been shipped via COVAX to lower and middle-income countries across the globe.
“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” Berkeley told News18.com on being asked if timely access to vaccines could have diverted the occurrence of mutated strains.
“The world needs to work together to ensure equitable access to vaccines, now,” he said while emphasising the need for urgency.
Berkley, who is an American epidemiologist and a global advocate of vaccines, further clarified how the world can ensure equitable access.
“This means manufacturers and donors providing the visibility for countries to roll out the largest national immunisation programmes in their history, and it means recipient countries using all resources available to get safe and effective vaccines to those that need them,” he said.
The international alliance recently expressed concern over the situation of donations of Covid-19 vaccines to Africa, adding that the majority of the donations to-date have been “ad-hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives”” South Africa is the country where Omicron — the heavily mutated strain of novel coronavirus — was first detected.
It also said that over half of the countries with humanitarian appeal still do not have enough doses to vaccinate even 10 per cent of their population. “Five of the poorest countries in the world only have enough doses to reach less than 2 per cent of their population (Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, South Sudan, and Yemen),” it said earlier.
Gavi has estimated that more than 167 million (16.7 crore) people – or 80 per cent of people most at risk of being omitted from national vaccine plans and who may require support from the humanitarian buffer – are living in low- and lower-middle-income countries.