New Covid variants are a danger until the whole world is vaccinated

People wearing face masks wait to receive a vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination center in Mumbai, India, April 26, 2021.

Niharika Kulkarni | Reuters

LONDON – New variants of Covid-19 are likely to continue to emerge until the whole world is vaccinated against the virus, experts warn, saying vaccine sharing is not just altruistic but pragmatic.

“Until the whole world is vaccinated, not just the wealthy western countries, I think we are going to remain in danger of new variants emerging and some of them could be more virulent than omicron,” he said. said Dr. Andrew Freedman, infectious disease reader. at Cardiff University School of Medicine, CNBC told CNBC on Thursday.

Viruses “tend to get milder” as they evolve, Freedman noted, but he cautioned that this “isn’t always the case.”

“Maybe it’s with future variants that they’re even more contagious, they can be milder, but that can’t be said for sure.”

To date, 58.6% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, with 9.28 billion doses administered worldwide, according to Our World in Data.

The majority of adult populations are now fully vaccinated against Covid in wealthy, predominantly Western countries like those in Europe or the United States, and in many of these countries vaccines are being rolled out to younger adolescents and even the youngest.

But in low-income countries, only 8.5% of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, Our World in Data shows.

“Global Escape Strategy”

Since the start of vaccine deployment, the World Health Organization has repeatedly implored wealthier countries to donate surplus vaccines to the Covax initiative, an international program aimed at ensuring more equitable global access to vaccines. .

The mantra “no one is safe unless everyone is safe” has often been heard by the WHO and other experts who say the pandemic will not be over until everyone is not protected.

“I cannot stress enough that there is no escape from this logic,” Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told CNBC earlier this week.

“It’s not altruism or aid or anything, it’s the overall strategy of escaping something that we all suffer from together. Unless we can share the vaccines and produce enough. vaccines for everyone, the next variant is just around the corner. “

Covid vaccines have been shown to significantly protect people against serious infections, hospitalizations and death. Therefore, apart from the fact that increased vaccination coverage will potentially save millions of lives, it is also likely to help prevent the emergence of new variants: large numbers of unvaccinated people allow the virus to spread. much more easily and mutate at the same time.

Gavi, the vaccine alliance that is part of the Covax program, says the initiative “is necessary because without it there is a very real risk that the majority of people around the world will not be protected against SARS-CoV-2. (Covid-19) and that would allow the virus and its impact to continue unabated. “

Like all viruses, the coronavirus which first appeared in China at the end of 2019 continued to mutate and evolve throughout the pandemic. Some mutations have been shown to be more effective in allowing the virus to spread. Variants such as the ‘alpha’ strain, first discovered in the UK in September 2020 and named as such by the WHO, then spread around the world, usurping the previous strains.

Then the “delta” variant, discovered in India in October 2020, supplanted the alpha variant and now we are grappling with “omicron”: a much more transmissible variant than delta but a strain that appears to cause less severe disease, according to one. growing number of studies conducted in record time since omicron first appeared in southern Africa in November 2021.

Vaccines compulsory?

Some countries have, and others are considering, making vaccination mandatory, but this raises thorny ethical dilemmas, such as whether it is ethical to vaccinate young children (who are, thankfully, rarely severely affected by Covid disease) in order to protect the older, more vulnerable citizens.

No Covid vaccine is 100% effective either and vaccinees can still contract and transmit infection to others although vaccination reduces this risk.

Yet a growing number of countries have made, or will make, vaccination against Covid mandatory for certain workers such as staff in healthcare facilities and nursing homes, while others are making it mandatory for certain segments of the population. age considered more at risk; Greece made vaccination compulsory for those over 60, while Italy on Wednesday made vaccination compulsory for anyone over 50. Needless to say, mandatory vaccines are a controversial topic and have sparked protests from many sides.

Freedman said it was better to encourage and educate people to get vaccinated than to force vaccines, but “it is always desirable to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

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