Covid-19, Omicron and Vaccine News: Live Updates

PictureGet vaccinated against coronavirus in Brazil this month.
Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rolled up his sleeves in December 2020 to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine that set in motion one of the world’s first mass rollouts of Covid shots, he declared that it marked “the beginning of the end”. “of the pandemic.

Thirteen months later, his prediction has proven far from true, but 10 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, a milestone that reflects the astonishing speed with which governments and pharmaceutical companies have mobilized, allowing many nations to imagine a near future where their people coexist with the virus but are not limited by it.

The milestone, which was reached on Friday, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, has not been reached fairly, although 10 billion doses could theoretically have meant at least one shot for all the world’s 7.9 billion people.

In the richest countries, 77 percent of the population has received at least one dose, whereas in low-income countries, the figure is less than 10 percent. While North America and Europe are vying to overcome Omicron rises by offering boosters, with some nations even considering a fourth shot, more than a third of the world’s population, many of them in Africa and poor pockets in Asia, are still waiting for a first dose .

The United States has given five times as many extra shots – about 85 million – than the total number of doses administered across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

“Ten billion doses is a triumph for science, but a complete failure for global solidarity,” said Madhukar Pai, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal.

And not all vaccines are the same. Those made in China have been shown to be less effective than the mFR vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. And while almost all of the world’s Covid vaccines protect against serious illness, early research suggests that most offer little protection against Omicron infection.

The consequences of the vaccine gap have been highlighted by Omicron, which was first identified in southern Africa. Low vaccination coverage creates conditions for widespread viral circulation and thus the possibility of new variants emerging.

Inequalities remain, though Covax, the global vaccine sharing initiative that facilitates the distribution of donations from rich nations, is increasing its supplies. After a slow start due to hoarding from rich nations and major outbreaks leading to export blockades, Covax said this month that it had delivered its billion-dollar dose – even though it is less than half of its original target.

Misinformation on social media and distrust of governments and pharmaceutical companies has given rise to hesitation with vaccines in many countries. Even where people are willing to be vaccinated, delivering doses to remote areas with poor health infrastructure has been a challenge.

Thomas Hale, associate professor of public policy at the University of Oxford, said that in sub-Saharan Africa, “we see pretty good vaccination rates in cities and capitals where vaccines tend to land, but that supply runs headlong into general challenges in building stronger health systems in these countries. “

High-income nations have announced initiatives to help, including Global Covid Corps, a U.S. government program to help countries overcome logistical and delivery barriers. But experts say another monumental challenge is that rich countries have failed to agree to waive intellectual property restrictions on vaccines and have not put pressure on drug companies to share their technology so poorer nations can produce doses locally .

South Africa, for example, has set up a hub to start developing mRNA vaccines, where scientists, with the support of the WHO, are trying to reverse-engineer the Moderna vaccine from scratch because the US drug maker does not want to share its technology.

Dr. Pai compared this to reinventing the wheel while a car is burning.

“We have learned through this pandemic that charity does not work in global health, and charity is not the same as justice,” he said. “And that’s what countries are looking for – a fair approach to being able to save themselves.”

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