See beyond your nose

The appearance of a third size variant – after Alpha and Delta, here is the dreaded Omicron – recalls the basics of any pandemic. The virus affects the whole planet. The virus knows no borders. Multiplying measures and vaccines among the better off, although essential, does not compensate for the flagrant lack of protection among the underprivileged majority. In Africa, only 6% of the general population is adequately vaccinated compared to 60% in the United States, 70% in France, 77% in mainland China, 75.50% in Canada and 77.9% in Quebec (88.9% of those 12 and over).

We would be right to congratulate ourselves on these Olympic vaccination rates if they were not a real Trojan horse. “Our failure to provide vaccines to third world countries is now coming back to haunt us”, says the former British Prime Minister and Ambassador to the World Health Organization (WHO), Gordon Brown. The variants are nothing other than the consequences of vaccine inequality; they are the (oh how clever) reactions of the virus to vaccines.

“Whenever the virus reproduces itself in someone, says virologist Vinod Balasubramaniam, the risk of a mutation exists. Such a mutation risks, in turn, creating a variant. The more mutations a variant exhibits – Omicron holds the prize for transformations – the more it is capable, at least in theory, of bypassing vaccine protection and, therefore, of being transmitted.

However, for the virus to develop all this framework, all these muscles, a vast training ground is needed. Large basins of populations still virgin, that is to say largely unprotected, are necessary to be able to train new attackers. All this genetic gymnastics takes place even more efficiently when the field has a lot of immunosuppressed people. Scientists suspect that it was this scenario that allowed the Delta and Omicron variants to emerge in South Africa, where 8.2 million people are infected with HIV.

Of course, no one was surprised by the new bans on southern African nationals, although these measures do not address the source of the problem, nor the administration of a third dose, although it is not known. still the effectiveness of current vaccines against the new variant. Every government has a duty to protect its people first. But how many variants will we need before we can see beyond our noses? Before understanding that this “vaccine nationalism” is not only catastrophic for third world countries, but that it is also, by rebounding effect, for all of us?

However, mechanisms have been established by the WHO to facilitate this new class struggle. COVAX sees to the obtaining and distribution of vaccines available throughout the world. C-TAP aims to democratize vaccine manufacturing by facilitating technology transfer and lifting intellectual property rights. But promises made in these respects have been largely ignored: only 14% of the 1.8 billion doses promised to disadvantaged countries have been received so far. According to a rapport du People’s Vaccine Alliance, the US government was the most generous, sending 16% of what it had promised, and Canada, one of the least generous, having fulfilled only 8% of its commitment – while appropriating , and that’s the last straw, 970,000 doses from the COVAX fund itself!

Obviously, international solidarity goes by the wayside when you think you have to put out fires at home. What about the pharmaceutical companies in all of this? Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Oxford / AstraZeneca and Pfizer / BioNTech have so far provided only 12% of their commitments, which is 15 times less than what they have provided to rich countries. “Each day, we administer six times more than third doses [dans les pays développés] than first doses in disadvantaged countries, says WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. […] We must put an end to this scandal. “

The behavior of pharmaceutical companies is particularly scandalous.

Despite billions of dollars in public funding, “which have effectively eliminated the risks normally associated with drug development, reminds Amnesty International, laboratories have retained their monopoly on intellectual property, blocked technology transfers and exerted very strong pressure to obstruct measures to expand vaccine manufacture on a global scale ”. These companies are “playing good God” without worrying about their prior commitments or their moral responsibilities.

Our inability to address vaccine inequality is directly linked to the fact that we have ceded control of vaccine supply to a handful of laboratories which, unable to meet global needs, are trying to artificially constrain supply, while prioritizing their profits. The Pfizer / BioTech duo expects revenues of US $ 15-30 billion this year, Moderna at 18 to 20 billion. Nothing less.

The health crisis has got us a little too accustomed to tackling the most urgent, without further thought. When will we see a more responsible way of doing things?

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