With the emergence in South Africa of yet another potentially more dangerous COVID-19 strain, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) echoes President Biden’s recent appeal for wealthy countries to step up the sharing of their excess vaccines and to back patent waivers and technology transfers that can boost global vaccine production.
“The new variant proves that hoarding vaccines is suicidal. While rich countries try to quarantine themselves from the rest of the world, new strains of COVID are incubating in dense hot spots where millions of people still can’t get vaccinated. Wealthy nations—particularly in Western Europe—are delusional if they think the pandemic will go away on its own while they keep hoarding mRNA technologies and surplus vaccines,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “We must end vaccine apartheid and rein in pharma greed – this is a global disaster that is beyond the capacity of any single country to handle. The only way out of it is genuine cooperation, accountability and transparency.”
The news about a novel variant which the World Health Organization has dubbed “Omicron” comes days before health officials and world leaders are set to meet at the special session of the World Health Assembly to deliberate on the outlines of a possible global health convention on pandemic preparedness and response.
In the wake of a muddled and uncoordinated response from the start of the pandemic, which among many other lapses saw the failure of the COVAX initiative to deliver on the promise of supplying the world with vaccines, it has become clear the world does not have a workable plan to address pandemics – a danger that AHF has been warning about as far back as 2015 during the West Africa Ebola outbreak. A set of specific proposals for such a treaty has been published in The Lancet in a paper co-authored by AHF, titled “A global public health convention for the 21st century.”
Sadly, the cost of being unprepared has been paid in over 5 million lives and counting, if anything constructive emerges from this global tragedy, it is that the world must finally heed these lessons and take the protection of global public health seriously.