New Theme in Omicron Coverage: Missed Promises

Wealthier nations aren't meeting pledges to supply vaccine to developing countries
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 29, 2021 2:16 PM CST
New Theme in Omicron Coverage: Missed Promises
A medical staff member prepares the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Tudor Ranch in Mecca, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Stories about the emergence of the Omicron variant frequently point to the same stat: Only about 6% of Africa, where it was first detected, is vaccinated against the coronavirus. As a result, critics are pointing fingers at wealthy nations for failing to fulfill promises to get vaccines to developing countries:

  • A mantra: "Perhaps no other moment in the pandemic has lent more truth to the often ignored mantra that 'no one is safe until we are all safe,'" writes Anthony Faiola in the Washington Post. Allowing the virus to circulate so widely gives it ample time to mutate into a more dangerous version, whether that proves to be Omicron or a later iteration, he writes.
  • Faraway goal: Faiola's piece also points out that the World Health Organization's program to share vaccines with poorer nations, called COVAX, pledged to ship 2 billion doses by the end of the year before revising that downward to 1.4 billion. Given that only 537 million doses have shipped so far, meeting even the lower goal will be challenging.

  • Scathing assessment: A more forceful criticism came in the Guardian via former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "Despite the repeated warnings of health leaders, our failure to put vaccines into the arms of people in the developing world is now coming back to haunt us," he wrote in his essay. "We were forewarned—and yet here we are." He accuses G20 nations of "monopolizing" the vaccine.
  • More on COVAX: The AP picks up on the theme. “The virus is a ruthless opportunist, and the inequity that has characterized the global response has now come home to roost,” says Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, one of the groups affiliated with the COVAX program. The outlet notes that while COVAX shipments have increased of late, to more than 4 million doses per day, that's not close to the amount needed (25 million per day) to reach even the lowered goal. Meanwhile, wealthier nations, including the US, "have a glut" of shots.
  • Another factor: Axios also weighs in, citing a quote that will by now sound familiar, from Seth Berkley, CEO of the Gavi vaccine alliance: "We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world's population, not just the wealthy parts." But Axios also notes a complication: Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said Sunday that some nations (including South Africa, where Omicron was first detected) have the vaccine but face serious distribution problems. "Of the 30 million doses Pfizer sent to South Africa, only 19 million have been used to date," he said on CBS' Face the Nation. The problem is acute in rural areas of South Africa.
(More omicron variant stories.)

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