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Pandemic cycle of panic and neglect - Tedros

Tuesday November 30th 2021

The world is stuck in a cycle of "panic and neglect" through countries failing to work together against COVID-19, the head of the World Health Organization has warned.

Hard won gains against the virus could "vanish in an instant" as it demonstrates its ability to mutate, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The warning came as the UK significantly expanded its vaccine programme in response to the emergence of the omicron variant.

Dr Tedros expressed his concern that South Africa and Botswana appear to be being "penalised" - with travel bans - for raising the alarm about the new variant.

He warned the pandemic would not be ended without solving the "vaccine crisis".

Global stampede

This has led to the poorest and most vulnerable being "trampled in the global stampede for vaccines," he told the opening session of the World Health Assembly.

He said: "More than 80% of the world's vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines.

"We understand and support every government's responsibility to protect its own people. It's natural. But vaccine equity is not charity; it's in every country's best interests. No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic alone.

"The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity this virus has to spread and evolve in ways we cannot predict nor prevent."

He went on: "Even as some countries are now beginning to vaccinate groups at very low risk of severe disease, or to give boosters to healthy adults, just one in four health workers in Africa has been vaccinated. This is unacceptable."

Challenging the UK government's latest plans, he said: "WHO's position remains that health workers, older people and other at-risk groups must be vaccinated first in all countries before those at low risk of serious disease, and before boosters are given to already-vaccinated healthy adults."

Splintered and disjointed response

He went on: "COVID-19 has now killed more than 5 million people. And they're just the reported deaths. The excess deaths caused by the virus, and by disruption to essential health services, are far higher.

"An unknown number live with post-COVID condition, or long-COVID, a condition we are only beginning to understand.

"Health systems continue to be overwhelmed. Millions have missed out on essential life-saving health services for noncommunicable diseases and mental health. Progress against HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and many other diseases has stalled or gone backwards. Millions of children have missed out on vaccinations for other life-threatening diseases, and months of education.

"Millions of people have lost their jobs or been plunged into poverty. The global economy is still clawing its way out of recession. Political divisions have deepened, nationally and globally. Inequalities have widened.

"Science has been undermined. Misinformation has abounded. And it will all happen again unless you, the nations of the world, can come together to say with one voice: never again."

Dr Tedros added: "And the lack of a consistent and coherent global approach has resulted in a splintered and disjointed response, breeding misunderstanding, misinformation and mistrust. The fabric of multilateralism has been frayed."

Science mist

* The British government yesterday agreed that all adults should have booster vaccines, reducing the gap between second and third doses of vaccine to three months, as the proposals gained support from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It took the steps as the number of cases of omicron infection in the UK reached 11 with six cases identified in Scotland and five in England.

The UK yesterday reported 42,583 new cases of infection, the second highest worldwide, and 35 deaths from the virus. South Africa reported 2,273 cases of infection and 25 deaths from the virus.

As part of the latest proposals, severely immunocompromised patients will be offered a fourth dose of vaccine.

UK deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: "If vaccine effectiveness is reduced - as seems pretty likely, to some extent - the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and, hopefully, there will be smaller effects in preventing severe disease.

"Vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most easily while we wait for that science mist to clear."

Health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs he had coordinated an international response to the new variant through the G7 group of wealthy countries.

He said: "Our vaccines remain our best line of defence against this virus, in whatever form it attacks us."

Tags: Africa | Flu & Viruses | UK News | World Health

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