At the September COVID-19 Summit hosted by President Biden, a December target of 40-percent vaccination was set for the 92 poorest countries. Currently, there is little chance of this target being met in at least 82 of them.
As new COVID-19 variant Omicron makes its way to more countries, and has renewed concerns about its health impacts, experts have warned that its emergence is a stark reminder of the real danger of global vaccine inequality.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this new variant carried a very high risk of infection surges around the globe. Since the first case of Omicron reported by South Africa on Nov. 24, cases of Omicron have been reported in multiple countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
"While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world's population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged," the Vaccine Alliance GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley said.
"One of the key factors to emergence of variants may well be low vaccination rates in parts of the world," said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
So far, many countries, most of which are in Africa and the Middle East, may fall behind the WHO's strategy to vaccinate 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70 percent by mid-2022. Noting that very few of the lowest income countries have vaccinated more than 5-6 percent of their population, the delay in vaccines getting to them has really been intolerable.
"The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue," said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
At the Global COVID-19 Summit in September hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, a December target of 40-percent vaccination was set for the 92 poorest countries. Currently, there is little chance of this target being met in at least 82 of them. "We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world's population, not just the wealthy parts. The world needs to work together to ensure equitable access to vaccines, now," Berkley said.