LONDON (AP) — The emergence of the new omicron variant and the world’s desperate and likely futile attempts to keep it at bay are reminders of what scientists have warned for months: The coronavirus will thrive as long as vast parts of the world lack vaccines.
The hoarding of limited COVID-19 shots by rich countries — creating virtual vaccine deserts in many poorer ones — doesn’t just mean risk for the parts of the world seeing shortages; it threatens the entire globe.
That’s because the more the disease spreads among unvaccinated populations, the more possibilities it has to mutate and potentially become more dangerous, prolonging the pandemic for everyone.
“The virus is a ruthless opportunist, and the inequity that has characterized the global response has now come home to roost,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, one of the groups behind the U.N.-backed COVAX shot-sharing initiative.
Perhaps nowhere is the inequality more evident than in Africa, where under 7% of the population is vaccinated. South African scientists alerted the World Health Organization to the new omicron variant last week, though it may never be clear where it first originated. Researchers are now rushing to determine whether it is more infectious or able to evade current vaccines.