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Vaccine inequality is to blame for the omicron, says Rockefeller Foundation

Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation

Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

According to Rajiv J. Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, the failure of the richest countries to quickly and widely disseminate Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries is a key reason for the emergence of a new omicron variant.

South African scientists reported the discovery of the highly mutated variant late last week, although cases have already been identified worldwide. The Dutch authorities say the option was already in the Netherlands when South Africa notified the World Health Organization.

The many mutations in Omicron have led the WHO to label it as “an option of concern” and “very high risk,” although much remains to be learned in the coming weeks about the severity of the symptoms and the option’s ability to avoid vaccinations and treatments.

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

However, he suggested that developed countries failed to achieve two of their goals to ensure that such success could be replicated around the world.

“The first was to achieve 40% immunization coverage by the end of this year, and the other was to achieve 70% and therefore herd immunity by September next year. Neither will be achieved through ongoing efforts, ”Shah said.

“And that is why we have this dangerous new option, destroying global markets, the global economy and life around the world.”

‘In the national interest of everyone’

He added that Rockefeller Foundation experts calculated that the likelihood of new variants emerging from less developed countries is six to eight times higher, because slow immunization means that the virus continues to replicate at a high rate.

Several African leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, have accused wealthy Western countries of possessing vaccines. Ramaphosa said in a speech last weekend that the emergence of the omicron variant should be “a wake-up call to a world that cannot afford to continue inequalities in vaccines.”

“Rather than banning travel, the world’s wealthy countries should support developing countries’ efforts to access and promptly produce sufficient doses of vaccine for their populations,” Ramaphosa said.

A number of countries, including the US and the UK, have taken steps to restrict travel from South Africa and neighboring countries following an initial report to WHO – a move that Malawi President Lazarus Chakvera described Sunday as fueled by “afrophobia” rather than science.

“I sincerely wish that the companies involved – Pfizer, Moderna and others – do more to make their products available, either through partnerships with local manufacturers or through truly tiered pricing mechanisms that could enable developing countries get access to these products on the right terms much faster, “Shah Charlotte Reed told CNBC on Tuesday.

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


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