A warning from Omicron

The Omicron variant is shaking the world, as many countries have reported a record high number of new COVID-19 cases. Along with the Delta variant, Omicron is a calling that urges the world to be more drastic, united and urgent, to fill the gap in vaccine access.

The US increases COVID-19 testing at schools.
The US increases COVID-19 testing at schools.

The Omicron variant appeared at the end of November 2021, when countries had not yet overcome the “extreme waves” caused by the Delta variant. Omicron has so far spread on a larger scale and is one of the reasons for the sad records of COVID-19 over many continents.

Germany recorded 80,430 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours on January 12, the highest level since the outbreak of the pandemic two years ago. In India, the number of new cases per day has also increased fivefold, since the beginning of 2022.

Africa has recently posted an 83% increase in new cases over just one week, mainly due to Delta and Omicron variants. These numbers showed the unpredictable danger of the Omicron variant, and the vaccinations against COVID-19 still need to be promoted throughout 2022.

However, it is worth mentioning that the problem of distribution and equitable access to vaccines, has not yet found a satisfactory solution. While some developed countries have reached early agreements with manufacturers to distribute vaccines to their population, many low- and middle-income countries can only rely heavily on limited vaccine supplies from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) mechanism.

Africa has long lagged behind other regions in vaccination coverage. Currently, less than 10% of the population has received full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, while the rate of 62.6% is reported in the US, demonstrating both ends of the spectrum, in the global vaccine picture.

While in some other countries, people are getting booster shots and promoting vaccination for animals in zoos, just over 7% of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated, said Tian Johnson, founder of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance.

COVAX, a key initiative to ensure equitable and rapid global access to vaccines, is also facing major challenges. Despite great efforts, COVAX only delivered 900 million doses of vaccines to countries in 2021, failing to reach half of its goal, of distributing two billion doses in 2021.

Experts say that ensuring both finance and sources of vaccine supplies, has always been a conundrum for COVAX since its establishment. A severe wave of COVID-19 infections in the second quarter of 2021 forced India, a major supplier of COVAX vaccines, to stop exporting vaccines, slowing down the delivery to other regions. In addition, COVAX also faces difficulty with powerful countries to order vaccines with manufacturers.

The WHO asserts that vaccine inequality is how we lose ourselves in the fight against the pandemic. According to Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK-based Wellcome Trust, the emergence of new variants shows us why the world needs to ensure more equitable access to vaccines and other public health tools. Working together on a global scale, to ensure vaccine access for everyone, is an important and urgent task that is not unique to a single country.