Omicron brings dose of reality to vaccine debate

The variant has shown that wealthy states will be unable to vaccinate themselves to immunity while large areas remain unvaccinated

A health worker prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine  in the Egoli township of Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph:  Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg

A health worker prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the Egoli township of Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg

 

Word that German group BioNTech could deliver a Covid-19 vaccine tailored to address the Omicron variant within weeks sparked some excitement over the weekend. BioNTech, which is working with US drug giant Pfizer, expects that supplies could be available for shipping within 100 days, which is still into March of next year.

Omicron has focused attention on the fact that wealthy countries will not be able to vaccinate themselves to immunity while large parts of the world remain unvaccinated.

As long as there are substantial populations unvaccinated this virus is going to mutate into new and possibly more dangerous variants that will inevitably find their way back into developed countries with the potential to overwhelm the protection offered by existing vaccines.

And the issue is not simply production. As of the end of last month South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, was already deferring ordered supplies of vaccine. It was reported that the country’s health ministry had asked Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to delay delivery of vaccines because it now has too much stock.

In South Africa vaccine hesitancy was cited as a reason for a slower than expected inoculation campaign. Elsewhere the issue is distribution.

Pfizer has even taken to having its vaccine delivered by drone in Ghana. It highlights a problem with infrastructure – both physical and in terms of healthcare – in many less developed countries.

There has been a lot of pressure on manufacturers to make vaccines available in these parts of the world but at least as much attention is going to have to be paid to the logistics headache in getting available vaccines into the arms of potential patients.

Given the complications of transporting mRNA vaccines it may yet be that for certain countries there is more potential in more easily distributed tablets that are being developed to treat Covid, which could also be given proactively to close contacts.

Either way, as governments scramble to deal with new outbreaks and increasingly frustrated electorates, Omicron has put paid to the notion that countries can manage this crisis independently of each other.

We truly are in this together – and for the long term.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.