Public Health

Vaccine inequality is responsible for Omicron, says Rockefeller Foundation

Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation

Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Rajiv J. Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, said the failure of the wealthiest nations to quickly and extensively share Covid-19 vaccines with developing countries is a major reason for the emergence of the new variant of Omicron.

South African scientists reported their discovery of the highly mutated variant late last week, although cases have now been identified around the world. The Dutch authorities say the variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa brought it to the attention of the World Health Organization.

Omicron’s multitude of mutations led the WHO to classify it as a “worrying variant” and “very high risk”, although much remains to be said in the coming weeks about the severity of symptoms and the variant’s ability to bypass vaccines and treatments, to learn is.

Speaking to CNBC at the Conference de Paris on Tuesday, Shah said the pandemic highlighted “the tremendous ingenuity and innovation” in the private sector that can be used in public policy. Operation Warp Speed ​​in the US is a “huge success story,” he added.

However, he indicated that the developed world had failed in its two goals to ensure that such success could be globally emulated.

“One was to get 40% vaccination coverage by the end of this year and the other was to get 70% herd immunity by September next year. Neither of these is being achieved through current efforts, ”said Shah.

“And that’s exactly why we have this dangerous new variant that is disrupting global markets and global economies and lives around the world.”

“In the national interest of all”

He added that Rockefeller Foundation experts estimated that new variants are six to eight times more likely to come from less developed countries, since slow immunization means virus replication continues to occur at high speed.

Several African leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, have accused wealthy Western nations of hoarding vaccines. Ramaphosa said in a speech over the weekend that the advent of the variant of omicron should “be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot continue”.

“Instead of banning travel, the rich countries of the world must support efforts by developing countries to have immediate access to and manufacture sufficient vaccine doses for their populations,” said Ramaphosa.

A number of countries, including the United States and Great Britain, have decided after the first report to the WHO to restrict travel from South Africa and neighboring countries – a move that Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera on Sunday as “afrophobia” and not science was fueled.

“I honestly wish that the companies involved here – Pfizer, Moderna and others – would do more to make their products available either through partnerships with local manufacturers or through real tiered pricing that could allow developing countries to access these products the right conditions much faster, “Shah told CNBC’s Charlotte Reed on Tuesday.

“It is in everyone’s national interest to serve other countries now.”

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