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Omicron | “The pandemic will continue to continue as long as there are millions of people unvaccinated”

In the world, only 6% of people living in poor countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine against COVID-19, which, for international health organizations and experts, creates a favorable scenario for the emergence of new variants of concern, as happened with Ómicron.

South Africa, where the new variant was identified, has only 29% of people fully vaccinated, and. A very different case from that of Latin America. In Peru, for example, we reached 66% of the immunized target population.

Ómicron has set off alarms in the world, although all the details are not yet known regarding whether it is more transmissible or whether it manages to escape – in some way – the protection of vaccines. However, most of the European countries, with the greatest access to vaccines in the world, have closed their borders, while

Access to vaccines: a history of inequity

The World Health Organization (WHO) has drawn attention to the inequitable access to vaccines in the world and has called for the distribution of doses in places with less coverage to avoid dangerous mutations.

“Although there is still much to know about this variant [Ómicron]What we do know is that while large parts of the world’s population are unvaccinated, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general.

For her part, this Wednesday Dr. Carissa Erienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), told the press that “The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities the virus will have to mutate and change.”

Along the same lines, after announcing the identification of Ómicron, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, indicated that the emergence of the new lineage of the coronavirus should motivate the powers with the supply of vaccines to

“This pandemic will not end until we have a global vaccination”, he assured.

Inequitable access to vaccines is a problem that has been registered since the beginning of the vaccination campaigns last year. One example of this is that while some countries are already administering a third dose, several nations, especially in Africa, are taking care of the emergency, says Doctors without Borders (MSF).

Felipe Carvalho, advisor to MSF’s Campaign for Access to Medicines for Latin America, tells El Comercio: “We consider that [la aparición de Ómicrón] It is a consequence of the inequity in access to vaccines, regardless of where they arise, the issue is that […] The failures that were observed last year in terms of distribution and access to vaccines, and which are being repeated now, create the ideal terrain for the virus to continue creating mutations ”.

But Carvalho emphasizes not only unequal access to immunizers, but also drugs already approved to treat COVID-19 patients: “International collaboration is essential to avoid new variants […] Rich countries are buying these treatments in large quantities and we see that , which have been most affected by the pandemic ”.

“The virus will continue to circulate for quite some time”

Asked about the possibility that a variant of concern may reappear in the region, even with Ómicron’s characteristics, PAHO Deputy Director Jarbas Barbosa told this newspaper that “Low coverage is always a risk. If we do not achieve greater equity in access to vaccines, that is a danger for everyone. It is not enough to discuss in one country whether a third, fourth or fifth dose is necessary, if there are many countries that are still not managing to vaccinate even their most vulnerable populations. Then, as happened in Brazil with Gamma. It can happen anywhere ”.

In this sense, in an interview prior to the announcement of the emergence of Ómicron, Óscar Burrone, emeritus virologist at the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at ICGEB Trieste, Italy, told us that “if the virus continues to massively infect millions and millions of people, it is inevitable that Other variants will appear, and it is inevitable that these new variants, even if the borders are closed, will eventually arrive; it does not matter where they identify themselves, as it happened with Delta, that in England at the beginning meant only 2% of the cases, now it is 99% in all Europe and the United States ”.

Illustration of antibodies attacking SARS CoV-2.  (SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

For this reason, the expert considers that public health measures must if the transmission of the virus in the world is to be fully controlled:

The virus will continue to circulate for a long time, but this will also depend on the efficiency of mass vaccination campaigns around the world, because it is not enough for a country to say: ‘I have 95% vaccination coverage and therefore my population is protected. ‘ With the amount of people in the world moving from one place to another, if not all people are vaccinated in all countries, the virus cannot be eliminated. This we know very well, and with viruses that circulated much less, such as polio, which did not affect the entire population ”.

What will the pharmaceutical companies do?

In this photo taken on October 14, 2021, a medical staff member prepares a syringe with a vial of Moderna coronavirus vaccine at a New York clinic.  (ANGELA WEISS / AFP).

After the announcement of the South African scientists, pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer or Modera said that in a space of The analysis consists of taking blood samples from people already immunized and subjecting them to the variant, to know how the vaccine behaves differently from its action against to Delta, for example.

In addition, companies that produce messenger RNA vaccines say they could relatively quickly update their products for the new variant. Pfizer said it could The University of Oxford, co-creator of the AstraZeneca vaccine, announced that it is also in the capacity to do so. For his part, the president of Moderna, Stephane Bancel, said that the new lineage could produce a “significant decrease” in the effect of the vaccines, although the results of the tests are still pending.

“We continually advance updated prototype versions of our COVID-19 vaccine, which use a new development based on studies of the Beta and Delta variants, identified earlier this year. These studies establish an updated approach to the current vaccine to address any future variants, if needed. We have started work on a DNA model adapted to the Omicron sequence, a critical step [y el primero] at ”, Pfizer details in a communication sent to this Journal.

The European Medicines Agency, meanwhile, assured that it could approve a specific vaccine for Ómicron, if needed, in three or four months.

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