Nov 29, 2021 - Health

Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world

Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images

The emergence of the Omicron variant is bringing new urgency to global vaccination efforts.

Why it matters: New variants can emerge anywhere, and can spread everywhere. Getting doses to the developing world — and getting those doses into people's arms — is essential, and that effort has so far been lagging.

What they're saying: "We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world's population, not just the wealthy parts. The world needs to work together to ensure equitable access to vaccines, now," said Seth Berkley, CEO of the Gavi vaccine alliance.

But, but, but: Some countries — including South Africa, where scientists first identified the omicron variant — have enough doses, but are facing distribution challenges, said Scott Gottlieb, who was FDA commissioner under the Trump administration and is on Pfizer's board.

  • "South Africa has told J&J and Pfizer — the two countries that are distributing vaccine there — to throttle shipments or stop shipments because they have an excess of vaccines," Gottlieb said on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "Of the 30 million doses Pfizer sent to South Africa, only 19 million have been used to date."

What to watch: Health officials across the globe are still racing to figure out whether the Omicron variant makes people sicker, whether it is more transmissible than prior COVID strains, and whether it evades protection from the vaccines.

  • Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa to try to determine the severity of the cases caused by the variant.
  • The world's major manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, said they are working to adapt their shots to Omicron, CNBC reported.
  • "We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks," Moderna's chief medical officer Paul Burton said on the BBC's "Andrew Marr Show."
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