WHO warns fears of omicron might spark new vaccine hoarding

The World Well being Group expressed issues Thursday that wealthy international locations spooked by the emergence of the omicron variant might step up the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines and pressure international provides once more, complicating efforts to stamp out the pandemic.

The U.N. well being company, after a gathering of its knowledgeable panel on vaccination, reiterated its recommendation to governments in opposition to the widespread use of boosters of their populations in order that well-stocked international locations as a substitute can ship doses to low-income international locations which have largely lacked entry to them.

“What will shut down illness is for everyone who is very vulnerable to illness to grow to be vaccinated,” mentioned Dr. Kate O’Brien, head of WHO’s division of immunization, vaccines and biologicals. “We appear to be taking our eye off that ball in international locations.”

In the meantime, the European Union’s drug regulator mentioned Thursday it’s intently following the unfold of the brand new variant and whether or not new vaccines might be required to combat it. Vaccine makers are racing to replace their COVID-19 pictures in opposition to the latest coronavirus risk even earlier than it is clear a change is required.

“At this stage, we should not have sufficient knowledge on the influence of this variant on the effectiveness of the accepted vaccines. However we’re constantly scanning the horizon to collect proof on this regard. In any case, we’re getting ready to take speedy motion ought to the necessity come up,” Marco Cavaleri, head of organic well being threats and vaccines technique on the European Medicines Company, mentioned throughout an internet media briefing.

Cavaleri mentioned that the company expects that “in a matter of three to 4 months we might be within the place of approving a variant vaccine for omicron.” The time scale is from the beginning of growth till approval, the company mentioned after the briefing.

Cavaleri additionally mentioned that the EU company expects to present the inexperienced mild to a fifth vaccine to be used within the 27-nation bloc earlier than the tip of the 12 months, with a choice on a request for authorization of American biotechnology firm Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine.

Months of quick provides of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to ease during the last two months or so, and doses are lastly attending to needier international locations – reminiscent of by way of donations and the U.N.-backed COVAX program – and WHO needs that to proceed. It has lengthy decried “vaccine inequity” by which most doses have gone to individuals in wealthy international locations, whose leaders locked down huge stockpiles as a precautionary measure.

“As we head into regardless of the omicron state of affairs goes to be, there’s threat that the worldwide provide is once more going to revert to high-income international locations hoarding vaccine to guard – in a way, in extra – their alternative for vaccination, and a kind of ‘no-regrets’ sort of strategy,” O’Brien mentioned.

“It isn’t going to work,” she added. “It isn’t going to work from an epidemiological perspective, and it is not going to work from a transmission perspective until we even have vaccine going to all international locations, as a result of the place transmission continues, that is the place the variants are going to come back from.”

Some rich governments wish to go away no stone unturned to get their populations as near full vaccination as potential. Many questions stay concerning the severity, transmissibility and resistance to vaccines of the brand new omicron variant, which emerged final month in southern Africa and has proven early indicators of spreading quicker than the widespread and lethal delta variant driving the pandemic now.

O’Brien urged a “rational, international perspective” about “what’s really going to close down this pandemic.”

“We’ve got the instruments at hand, we now have the alternatives we will make, and the subsequent days and weeks are actually going to find out what course the world decides it’ll go in, on omicron,” she mentioned.

Nonetheless, WHO says people in wealthy international locations ought to observe the insurance policies of their governments, a few of that are engaging individuals to get boosters, that are further doses aimed to buck up immunity from earlier jabs that wanes over time.

“A person in a rustic, their dose just isn’t going to get shipped to a different nation as a result of they do not take the dose,” O’Brien mentioned. “It’s nation governments, not people, who’re making selections that might affect the equitable distribution of vaccines to different international locations.”

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