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Omicron variant exposes danger of global vaccine apartheid

Originally published: Liberation News on December 1, 2021 by Sameena Rahman (more by Liberation News)  | (Posted Dec 06, 2021)

A new, heavily mutated Coronavirus variant, Omicron, is causing alarm around the world as scientists race to discover more about this new type of the virus and its potential resistance to vaccines.

South African scientists sequenced the virus and shared that knowledge with the World Health Organization on Nov. 24. Western governments’ response to the announcement of the new variant set off a frenzy of travel bans not just from South Africa but numerous other African countries. The South African government has spoken out against the unfair targeting of their nation simply for doing its duty by discovering the new variant and alerting the rest of the world. In addition, it is unclear where exactly the virus originated. For instance, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands announced yesterday that the Omicron variant was detected in the Netherlands almost a week before it was officially announced by South Africa.

As the pandemic is nearing the end of its second year, the world continues to face an enormous number of deaths. The pandemic continues to drag on with no end in sight, in large part due to the extreme global inequality in the availability of the vaccine. The wealthy capitalist countries like the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia have hoarded hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, effectively depriving poorer countries of the opportunity to vaccinate their population. The amounted hoarded far exceeds to amount needed to vaccinate those countries’ populations.

Most recent COVID-19 data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reveals the shocking extent of this inequality, often referred to as “vaccine apartheid.” For example, the United States and the United Kingdom boast a 60% and 69.4% vaccination rate, respectively (despite right wing agitation against the vaccine), whereas Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Haiti have 9.1%, 1.5% and 0.6% of their population vaccinated, respectively. All these countries and many others bear the brunt of imperialist plunder. At a time of crisis, these same imperialists turn their back on the countries they got rich off of.

Wherever Omicron in fact originated, the lack of immunization and recurring infections has created the perfect opportunity for the virus to mutate continuously–making the fight against COVID-19 vastly more challenging. A Journal of the American Medical Association article highlights this very fact, that “In constraining the scarce supply of vaccines that could be sent to countries with much lower vaccination rates, these campaigns also increase the likelihood that vaccine-resistant variants will develop, to the potential detriment of the entire world.” The vaccine hoarding by governments like the United States in fact puts their own populations at greater risk because of this phenomenon of out-of-control mutation.

Additionally, pharmaceutical giants like Moderna’s capitalist profit making has become so grotesque that the WHO hired Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a startup company, in a $100 million plan to recreate a new vaccine as close as possible to the existing Moderna mRNA vaccine–all because Moderna refuses to share its vaccine “intellectual property.”

Meanwhile, China pledged this week an additional 1 billion vaccine doses to African countries in addition to the nearly 200 million doses already supplied. But for the big capitalist powers, instead of global solidarity they have acted with total disregard for the rest of the world.

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