The Delta (B.1.617.2) and Omicron (B.1.1.529) variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus now circulating are twin threats that are causing huge numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Total vaccination of the world’s population can help control the problem. However, fewer than half of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) member states have met the plan to immunize 40% of their people.
According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, while 1.8 million deaths due to complications from COVID-19 infection were officially registered in 2020, the number of deaths rose to 3.5 million in 2021. Of course, these figures are much worse in reality. Moreover, millions of people suffer from the long-term effects of COVID-19.
The rampant spread of Omicron across the planet will increase the already enormous burden on a depleted health care system already on the verge of collapse.
False and misleading information, often disseminated by small groups, is a relentless distraction, undermining confidence in science and lifesaving medicine. The resulting hesitancy to vaccinate has led to disproportionately high mortality rates among the unvaccinated.
The current plan of the world’s chief medical agency recommends that 70% of those vaccinated against COVID-19 in every country be reached by early July 2022.
The critical logistical problem of limited or expired vaccine shipments to low-income countries must be addressed. The current emphasis on third (booster) doses of vaccines will further exacerbate it, as rich nations will seek to immunize their populations by unfairly taking vaccines for themselves. Eliminating health disparities is the key to ending the pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, new variants of the coronavirus could become completely resistant to existing vaccines, requiring them to adapt accordingly. And any renewal of vaccines potentially means another shortage in supply. Therefore, vaccine production must be ramped up locally. But this is not possible without the consolidation of vaccine technologies when all patents and intellectual property rights become the public domain. This has not happened so far: every pharmaceutical company is busy making crazy profits.
The moment has come when the leaders of the countries must put aside the politics of populism and self-interest.