The threat of new coronavirus variants remains a focus for the world’s leading public health experts, although some richer and more vaccinated countries are pushing to return to normal.
That’s why it’s Bill Gates anger some experts over the weekend, he said it is too late to meet the World Health Organization’s global vaccination target of 70% and that there is no longer demand for vaccines. He added that with natural immunity to the virus, much of the African continent has a higher level of protection.
“You get well over 80% of people have been exposed either to the vaccine or to different variants,” Gates said at the security conference in Munich.
“What does matter is that it means the chance of serious illness … these risks are now dramatically reduced because of that infection exposure,” he added.
But experts on the first global Ports To Arms Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, Wednesday sharply disagreed with Gates.
Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavithe global vaccine alliance, said that even though we are tired of the virus, it is not tired of us.
“We have had a new variant every 4-5 months; it is likely that there will still be new variants. They may or may not be more serious,” he said in response to a question from Yahoo Finance.
“What’s important to keep in mind is that previous variants have not necessarily protected against new variants,” Berkley added.
Dr. Atul Gawande, assistant administrator of global health for USAID, pointed out that the 70% target is the minimum target – and that figure has broader implications for the overall pandemic.
“It’s the only way we will be able to stop the generation of more varieties,” especially to protect the most vulnerable sections of the world’s population, he said.
His comments come at a time when the African continent remains largely unvaccinated – with just over 10% fully vaccinated.
Kate O’Brien, Executive Director of the WHO’s Internal Vaccine Access Center, told Yahoo Finance that the 70% target includes flexibility and takes into account country-by-country needs.
“The strategy is talking about adaptation … as the pandemic develops. I do not want anyone to misunderstand that this … is written in stone in any way,” O’Brien said.
But the problem is no longer a shortage of vaccine, but rather an oversupply. The problem arose as African nations struggled to deal with ever-changing supply promises, which led to distort plans on earth to step up the infrastructure to get shots in the arms.
That is why, John Nkengasong, Africa CDC director, ies asking for a break on all global donations until the third or fourth quarter of this year.
However, this does not mean that the urgency of vaccinating has decreased.
“If you look at the death toll, things are not changing very fast. We still have a pandemic around the world,” O’Brien said.
“There is still a race to get vaccinated,” she added.
Richard Hatchett, executive director of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said that rather than calling for an “end to the virus” in high-vaccination areas, the focus should instead be on long-term prospects.
“We have to think about the vaccines we want to have in three to five years when this virus is still with us – still mutating, still changing,” he said.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the Africa WHO, added that the ultimate goal is to provide protection against serious illness and minimize deaths of those who get the virus even though they have been vaccinated.
She pointed a roadmap prepared by the WHO to prioritize the most vulnerable.
Recent studies have shown that even with natural protection against the virus, a single dose of a vaccine can provide much better protection for individuals.
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