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Omicron is the price we pay for vaccine inequality

16 11 8

Enlightened self-interest — ensuring that the developing world is getting COVID-19 vaccines — isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

That shouldn’t be a surprise since self-interest, or getting vaccinated, doesn’t seem to be much of a motivator either. Yet discovery of the omicron variant — the new COVID-19 mutation that is ringing alarms and shutting doors around the world — is proof that vaccine inequality is everyone’s problem.

B.1.1.529 is the new COVID variant. Dubbed omicron, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the first confirmed specimen was detected Nov. 9 in Botswana. Most subsequent cases have been found in southern Africa, although it’s rapidly spread worldwide. Blame international air travel: Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam went into lockdown last weekend as 61 passengers on two flights from southern African countries tested positive for the coronavirus. Cases have also been detected in Japan, Hong Kong and Israel, among others.

The Japanese government on Tuesday confirmed its first case of the new omicron variant after a 30-year-old man who arrived at Narita Airport on Sunday from Namibia tested positive for the virus. The government Monday announced it was closing its border to all foreign visitors, joining a long list of other countries that have imposed new restrictions on travel.

Before we go any further: There is no reason to panic. Viruses mutate all the time and there is little information about omicron. Scientists don’t know if it is any more infectious, lethal or resistant to vaccines than the original bug or any of the other variants.

We can be sure of one thing, though: If omicron poses a threat, it’s the result of vaccine inequality. The appalling divide between vaccine haves and have-nots will ensure that we are regularly visited by new and alarming COVID-19 variants. As Glenda Gray, head of the South African Medical Research Council, warned “Until we vaccinate enough people we’re going to have this happen over and over again.”

The numbers are dispiriting. In August, of 15 billion total COVID-19 doses, high-income nations took 6.6 billion, 2.5 billion went to upper-middle income........

© The Japan Times

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