The Columbus Dispatch

Omicron’s arrival sparks fears of vaccine hoarding

Sharing doses remains necessary, WHO says

- Jamey Keaten and Mike Corder

GENEVA – The World Health Organizati­on expressed concerns Thursday that rich countries spooked by the emergence of the omicron variant could step up the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines and strain global supplies again, complicati­ng efforts to stamp out the pandemic.

The U.N. health agency, after a meeting of its expert panel on vaccinatio­n, reiterated its advice to government­s against the widespread use of boosters in their population­s so that well-stocked countries instead can send doses to low-income countries that have largely lacked access to them.

“What is going to shut down disease is for everybody who is especially at risk of disease to become vaccinated,” said Dr. Kate O’brien, head of WHO’S department of immunizati­on, vaccines and biological­s. “We seem to be taking our eye off that ball in countries.”

European Union’s drug regulator said Thursday it is closely following the spread of the new variant and whether new vaccines will be required to fight it. Vaccine makers are racing to update their COVID-19 shots against the newest coronaviru­s threat even before it’s clear a change is needed.

“At this stage, we do not have enough data on the impact of this variant on the effectiveness of the approved vaccines. But we are continuous­ly scanning the horizon to gather evidence in this regard. In any case, we

are preparing to take rapid action should the need arise,” Marco Cavaleri, head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy at the European Medicines Agency, said during an online media briefing.

Cavaleri said that the agency expects that “in a matter of three to four months we will be in the position of approving a variant vaccine for omicron.”

Cavaleri also said that the EU agency expects to give the green light to a fifth vaccine for use in the 27-nation bloc before the end of the year, with a decision on a request for authorizat­ion of American biotechnol­ogy company Novavax’s coronaviru­s vaccine.

Months of short supplies of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to ease over the last two months or so, and doses are finally getting to needier countries – such as through donations and the U.n.backed

COVAX program – and WHO wants that to continue. It has long decried “vaccine inequity” by which most doses have gone to people in rich countries, whose leaders locked down big stockpiles as a precaution­ary measure.

“As we head into whatever the omicron situation is going to be, there is risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine to protect – in a sense, in excess – their opportunit­y for vaccinatio­n, and a sort of ‘no-regrets’ kind of approach,” O’brien said.

“It’s not going to work,” she added. “It’s not going to work from an epidemiolo­gical perspectiv­e, and it’s not going to work from a transmissi­on perspectiv­e unless we actually have vaccine going to all countries, because where transmissi­on continues, that’s where the variants are going to come from.”

 ?? ALBERTO PEZZALI/AP ?? Months of short supplies of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to ease over recent months, and doses are finally getting to needier countries.
ALBERTO PEZZALI/AP Months of short supplies of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to ease over recent months, and doses are finally getting to needier countries.

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