The World Today for December 13, 2021

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The experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) believe the speedy infection rate and unknown consequences of the omicron variant of the coronavirus could change the course of the pandemic. Deaths due to Covid-19 increased by 10 percent in the first week of December, CNBC reported. While it’s not clear if the omicron variant is to blame, the data suggests a correlation.

The disparity between wealthy nations that have the resources and distribution networks to vaccinate their citizens and poorer nations that lack those tools is central to the problem. “Africa right now is essentially a superincubator,” said Andrea Taylor, a vaccine expert at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, in an interview with NBC News.

Omicron was first discovered in South Africa. The delta variant emerged in India. Unless the developing world receives more vaccines and, equally importantly, overcomes logistical and anti-vax social hurdles to jabs, Taylor argued, new variants with other Greek-letter-names could be on the way.

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The world is not rising to the challenge. As Bloomberg wrote in an editorial, few poor countries will hit the 40 percent vaccination rate target that WHO has set for the end of the year. The median rate is 14 percent. Unless those rates rise, nobody in the rich world is safe from more Covid-19 mutations, the logic goes.

But some scientists disagree. Omicron was likely incubating for a very long time somewhere before it was discovered in South Africa, the Economist argued. The virus is mutating in Europe, where vaccination rates are relatively high, for example. Whether or not everyone is vaccinated is possibly beside the point. Also, the current vaccines might not even protect folks from the omicron variant very well, National Public Radio wrote.

Attempting to bypass this debate, the European Council on Foreign Relations called for a more coordinated response to the coronavirus in general. Rather than debating whether or not the rich should help the poor, world leaders should be discussing how to move forward together, wrote David McNair, a Council member and executive director at ONE.org, a non-governmental organization that aims to end world poverty.

Examining how rich and poor nations have fared after they’ve stepped up vaccinations might provide some clarity for moving forward. Brazil, formerly a pandemic epicenter, launched a mass inoculation campaign that has reduced daily deaths to levels that are below those in the US and Europe, the Financial Times reported. Restrictions on the public activities of Austrians who refuse jabs, meanwhile, have convinced many to seek out vaccinations that will improve their chances of avoiding sickness, Reuters added.

Concerted action is necessary everywhere.

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