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Opinion: Vaccine Hoarding Is To Blame For The Omicron Variant

While rich countries already reach almost 100% of their vaccinated population, African countries do not even reach 5%. The poor distribution of vaccines is the culprit of the Omicron variant.

COVID-19 vaccine vial

Those who monopolize are the rich countries, but the culprits of the pandemic are the poor. Photo: LatinAmerican Post

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Goméz Hernández

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Leer en español: Opinión: Acaparamiento de vacunas es el culpable de la variante Omicrón

The WHO was right, if vaccines do not reach all countries, especially the poorest, we will never get out of the pandemic and the Omicron variant is a clear example of this. A few days ago, the world's news reported the identification of a new variant of the Coronavirus in southern Africa. The South African authorities identified a new mutation of the virus, this caused them to be "guilty of the Omicron variant" in the eyes of the world. 

Immediately, the European countries and the United States decided to close borders with flights or travelers who have been in the risk zone. However, this was not enough or was not timely, since in less than a week, positive cases of this new strain have already begun to appear in various western countries. Mainly, because possibly the variant was already in Europe for much longer, it is even possible that it traveled from Europe to Africa and not from south to north.

The only purpose this belated response served was to discriminate and blame African countries for this new strain. Of course, speeches held at low levels of development, underfunded health systems, the perception of poor hygienic practices on the African continent, were really effective at diverting the failure of their own programs to others. 

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But no, the Western world and the wealthy countries have limited themselves to blaming the rest of the world: first China and now Africa for being responsible for the evils that they also suffer today. This is not to mention that the European and North American countries are the origin of several of the conspiracy theories that are now also spreading around the world with a speed that even the virus would envy.

The WHO had already warned about this, before starting with the administration of the third dose in several European countries: it was essential to start increasing vaccination rates in the global south.

For example, today, according to OurWorldInData, only 5.9% of people in resource-poor countries have the full vaccination schedule. Countries like Nigeria (the most populous country in Africa) do not even add 3% of their vaccinated population. This is just one example, since neither Ethiopia nor Kenya reaches 10% of vaccinated. At the other end of the spectrum, the UAE has 98%; Singapore 93%, Cuba 90% and Portugal 89%. This is a small example of how badly distributed vaccines have been.

It is also time to blame the big pharmaceutical companies, which refuse to release patents in order to increase the production of drugs, and that they reach these other countries that are still waiting for COVAX.

Today it will be the Omicron variant, tomorrow it may be any other new mutation that threatens the stability and economy of the world, unless we begin to universally democratize vaccines. It is time, while in the countries of the global north they hit a wall that prevents them from convincing the anti-vaccines and that does not allow them to increase vaccination rates, to the point wherein several countries there are riots against vaccination. In the global south, there are still countries without being able to access these and where a large population needs to be protected by means of the vaccine. They should do it out of a simple sense of survival: either we vaccinate the entire planet or we are exposed to new variants, more lethal, more contagious, and immune to existing vaccines.