(Bloomberg) – The omicron variant threatens to widen an already huge gap in access to covid vaccines, as scientists are bracing for the possibility that repurposed vaccines are needed and rich countries once again become Hurry to get them first.
The omicron variant emerges just as vaccine supplies destined for low-income countries begin to rebound. At the beginning of the pandemic, wealthy governments hoarded most of the initial doses, leaving vast regions of the planet behind.
Now the goal is to avoid another episode of inequity. The UK is already moving swiftly to secure omicron-adapted messenger RNA vaccines and other potential variants if they are developed as part of new agreements with Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. The recent discovery of the variant in the United States could prompt action. Similary.
“That is the big concern: that what happened in the last year and a half is repeated,” said Ellen ‘t Hoen, director of Medicines Law & Policy, a research group based in the Netherlands. “If it is not this variant, it will be another.”
Even if vaccines maintain their potency, health groups pushing to protect vulnerable regions are under increasing pressure. About 100 nations have not reached a World Health Organization (WHO) target to vaccinate 40% of their populations, and more than half are at risk of not reaching it by the end of 2021. Scientists worry that vaccine disparities and the continued spread of the virus create more dangerous variants that pose a risk to both rich and poor nations.
“Inequality stems from scarcity, and when there is scarcity, those who have resources will use them to meet their own needs first,” said Richard Hatchett, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). English). “So the question would be: if this turns out to be a really dangerous variant, will countries rush to get supplies?”
CEPI is discussing the possible deployment of modified vaccines with other partners in Covax, the global vaccine distribution program, he said. Covax is in a more advantageous position than it was at the beginning of the crisis, when it was still in the making, and a vaccine shortage shouldn’t last as long this time, but the concern “is real,” he said.
“If the data suggests that we really need to introduce a vaccine against the omicron variant, we will act as quickly as possible to secure the doses to reduce the inequity that may arise,” he said.