Could the Omicron variant have been avoided? Could set back vaccine successes around the world

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Labyrinthine Covid Reminder System Is The Real Reason For The Delays


is am an epidemiologist working in the field of global health and working in the field of vaccines for almost 15 years. While the scientific successes of developing the Sars-CoV-2 vaccine have been surreal, the unfairness of the pandemic and access to vaccines has discouraged me.

As Australia achieves nearly 90% coverage for two doses of Covid-19 vaccination, it is an achievement worth celebrating. Vaccination against Covid-19 has already been shown to be very effective in mitigating large-scale community transmission in settings such as New South Wales, where rapid deployment with high levels of first-dose coverage as well as other public health measures have contributed to the bending of the curve.

But the vast majority of low- and middle-income countries have vaccinated only a small proportion of their population. Analysis suggests that while 66% of people in high-income countries are fully immunized, only 2.5% of people in low-income countries are fully protected.

In many settings, even health workers have not yet been vaccinated, making frontline defense in countries very weak. With more than 3.5 billion people worldwide waiting for their first dose of vaccine, many high-income countries are now introducing boosters or third doses for the general population, as well as pediatric vaccines.

Barriers to immunizing people in low-income countries are largely due to supply issues, with only a small number of doses available. While there are other ongoing challenges such as low temperature cold chain storage, distribution logistics, vaccine reluctance and shortages of health workers to administer vaccines in some settings, the biggest obstacle is the lack of doses.

The world is hearing about the emergence of a disturbing new variant, Omicron. Although first detected in Gauteng, South Africa, the variant did not necessarily start there. Although it is still early days, the WHO technical advisory group on the evolution of the Sars-CoV-2 virus has sounded the alarm for several reasons. Early epidemiological data from cases in Gauteng – one of the most populous areas in South Africa, where the strain appears to be spreading faster than other parts of the country – suggests Omicron has a new combination of mutations multiple, including on the “S gene”, which produces the spike protein, and an apparent ability to overtake the Delta variant.

Science tells us that we could have avoided the emergence of this new variant of concern. Viral mutations are part of natural selection and are common. When the virus enters a cell, it can make copies of itself which spread and infect other cells and then pass to another person.

Sometimes during this copying process in unimmunized people it can introduce an “error” or mutation, and sometimes these mutations can give viruses a competitive advantage to spread from one unimmunized person to another.

But if a person is already immune (say through vaccination), then the virus cannot spread between people, preventing the emergence of new variants.

The emergence of each new variant of concern may have implications for our public health response measures, how we test for the strain, and whether current vaccines will work. The emergence of new variants that elude existing vaccines can significantly set back the success of Covid-19 vaccination around the world.

While it is too early to say if all of this is true for Omicron, or if there are “real” differences in the characteristics in terms of transmission, its ability to cause serious disease, and whether it will replace the Delta variant. of Sars- CoV-2, it is a timely reminder that we need larger populations in the world to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Vaccination is one of the best ways to prevent the emergence of new variants.

For several months, experts in the field have been advocating for greater equity in vaccines across the world, ensuring that low-income countries have better access to vaccines through increased supply through Covax, waivers of intellectual property who hold the recipe for vaccine manufacturing, and greater manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries.

Vaccinating the world’s population, especially those living in conditions of poverty and experiencing the worst impacts of Covid-19 at the same rate as those in rich countries, is important for several reasons.

First, it’s fairer and the ethical thing to do; second, economic estimates from the United Nations estimates suggest that low- and middle-income countries will suffer losses of $ 12 billion through 2025; and third, the scientific case for vaccinating the world is strong.

As we prepare to enter the third year of the pandemic, there is also a significant impact on other health programs around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, regarding measles, tuberculosis. , HIV and several other routine health services, which can also have a more serious impact on people living in poverty.

As countries embark on booster immunization programs for adolescents and children, we need faster policy solutions that increase vaccine supplies in low- and middle-income countries.

Current approaches are not optimal.

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