On Friday, the Dow collapsed by 2.5%, its worst post-Thanksgiving performance since 1931. The culprit was not inflation, but rather the uncertainty triggered by the Omicron variant – which sounds like the title of a sci-fi novel at good prices. – a new strain of coronavirus that produced an “exponential increase” in COVID cases in South Africa.
Omicron: New answers to the three big questions
Omicron: New answers to the three big questions
By Abdul El-Sayed
It is unclear how well the vaccines will protect against it, although the variant does not appear to cause more serious disease than its predecessors. Yet, with more than a quarter of American adults still unvaccinated, the threat of another COVID wave sent investors into the fetal position.
The news prompted the usual idiocy of the usual suspects. Fox News hosts suggested that the Democrats would invent a new variant every two years. Ronny Jackson, former White House “Dr. Feelgood, who became a Texas congressman, accused Democrats of producing the variant”to push unsolicited nationwide ballot papers. “Such wastewater would be best ignored if it had not already led to Republicans making up 60% of the unvaccinated, contributing to countless thousands of deaths, and turning the pandemic into a new cultural war front.
After Britain identified two Omicron cases in connection with travel from southern Africa, the United States and the EU restricted flights from the region. Travel bans do not work; the variant almost certainly reached its path across the globe before we knew it existed. In addition, the U.S. ban exempts U.S. citizens as if the virus chooses victims based on their passports.
It would be more productive to subject all international travelers, regardless of their place of origin, to test and quarantine requirements, and while we are in the process of requiring proof of vaccination to board all aircraft at US airports. A federal court has blocked Biden’s order forcing large companies to require vaccinations or regular COVID tests – the administration is appealing – and several conservative states have passed laws to undermine vaccine mandates. But there are still ways to make life inconvenient for the unvaccinated.
The point is not only that encouraging vaccinations will reduce illness and death. It is also that suppression of a virus transmission limits its ability to mutate into more transmissible and potentially lethal variants.
Of course, these opportunities would ignite the fires of the culture war, and Biden does not have much appetite for that. So in the absence of meaningful actions, a travel ban gives him something to point to, a meaningless – even counterproductive – gesture, even if it is. After all, the world knows about the variant because South African scientists quickly discovered and reported it. But now the country will be punished for their good deed, which will deter other countries from being so approachable.
It is no coincidence that the Omicron variant appears to have originated in a country with a large unvaccinated population. Less than a quarter of South Africans are fully vaccinated; only 7% of the population of Africa is. In many ways, the pandemic has become a nuisance to the poor, who disproportionately infect and kill them in developing countries. As of last month, only 4% of people living in low-income countries had been vaccinated.
This is another legacy of racism and colonialism – and another case of short-term greed that bites us in the ass.
The United States has set itself the goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by September next year, but that is unlikely. Wealthy nations have largely left the global poor – or at least made their needs secondary at best.
Donations to COVAX, the international body that distributes vaccines to poorer countries, have been abysmal. According to a report released last month by The People’s Vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna sold only 1% and 3% of their respective supplies to COVAX. Moderna, meanwhile, has sold 93.5% of its supply to high-income countries, and Pfizer has sold 67%. None of them have sold anything to low-income countries, and by October, Moderna had not yet delivered any of the 34 million doses it promised to COVAX.
It would be relatively simple to increase the global vaccine supply by billions of doses. Public health experts say pharmaceutical manufacturers in Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Thailand and Indonesia could quickly start producing the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer if these companies licensed their mRNA technology. But they have refused, allegedly because the vaccines are too complicated to be manufactured in foreign countries.
More likely, given the $ 53 billion that the vaccines have generated, they do not want to risk the surplus that future mRNA vaccines can provide.
If Big Pharma does not want to play ball, however, there is another way to skin the legendary cat. For a year, India and South Africa have been pressuring the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property rights rules, which would allow generic manufacturers to produce cheap vaccines that they could distribute worldwide. Referring to the “extraordinary circumstances” of the pandemic, the Biden administration says it supports the exemption.
But in September, the United States joined the EU, Britain and Switzerland to oppose a dispensation; its reasons were not clear, although they seemed to focus on the language of renunciation. In a announcement on Friday, Biden called on the WTO nations to renounce the rules at a meeting this week.
“This news [of the Omicron variant] is a reminder that this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations. ” Biden tweeted Friday, and boasts that the United States has donated “more vaccines to other countries than all other countries combined.
It should be clear now that charity will not get the job done. In a global crisis, pharmaceutical profits – built with public incentives and / or publicly funded research – can not be prioritized over the welfare of the low-income population. Ideally, the morality of such an idea would convince the richest nations of the world to act.
However, if basic human decency is not sufficient, the self-interest may be: The more countries there are with lots of unvaccinated people, the greater the chance the virus has to mutate, and the more we will prolong the pandemic.
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