Covid 'complacency' among governments rising, Gavi warns

Vaccine gap between rich and poor nations is closing but work still needs to be done, Gavi says

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a dose of the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination hub in Texas. AFP
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Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, has warned world leaders not to lose focus on the pandemic when planning for possible twists in the battle against Covid-19, as new variants continue to emerge.

Economies are on the road to recovery more than two years since the pandemic began, but Gavi said now is not the time for complacency.

The partnership, which aims to increase immunisation in populations around the world, said that while the vaccine gap between nations is closing “there are still ample differences in vaccine coverage between the poorest and the highest-income countries”.

“The global crisis we’re in is far from over and it’s important to remember that we are living through the worst pandemic in a hundred years,” a spokeswoman for Gavi told The National.

“This is not the time for the world to become complacent.”

New variants have been emerging every four months, the spokeswoman said, and added that “a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron version of coronavirus known as BA.2 is now dominant worldwide”.

“Many governments worldwide have started lifting Covid restrictions but it is important to remember that this pandemic is not yet over, and we must prioritise supporting lower-income countries in meeting and expanding their [vaccine] coverage targets,” she said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week estimated that the worldwide death toll from Covid-19 had reached 15 million.

But the true figure is likely to be much higher as many countries are suspected of shrinking their official statistics.

North Korea last week announced its first case of Covid-19, although experts believe the virus had already been circulating for some time in the country.

More than two years after the coronavirus crisis began, 65 per cent of the world’s 7.9 billion inhabitants have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine — but less than 16 per cent of people in low-income countries have received a shot.

Gavi said that if large parts of the global population remain unvaccinated, the fast-mutating virus will continue to put those most vulnerable at risk of severe illness and death.

“The best way to prepare for a new surge is to ensure that as many people are vaccinated and protected from the virus as possible,” the spokeswoman said.

The US death toll from Covid-19 hit one million on Thursday, the highest figure in the world.

The confirmed number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days and is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and the Second World War combined.

“It is hard to imagine a million people plucked from this earth,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, who leads a new pandemic centre at the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.

“It’s still happening and we are letting it happen.”

Updated: May 17, 2022, 4:00 AM