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Ensuring the equity of vaccines to control the third wave of COVID

Ensuring the equity of vaccines to control the third wave of COVID

Assuring vaccination equity in order to combat the third wave of COVID

As scientists predicted, the third wave of SARS COV-2 is rapidly spreading around the world.  The first case of the virus variant, Omicron, was reported in South Africa just a few weeks ago.  It soon spread to Europe, America and is now spreading tentacles in Asia, including our country.  The UK recorded 1.40 lakh of new cases on January 8, 2022. The number of new cases in the US on the same day was 4.43 lakh and India was 1.59 lakh.  This number is likely to increase in mid-February.  During the second wave of the Delta variant, the highest number in India was 4.14 lakh of cases on May 6, 2022. The Delta variant was highly fatal and was the cause of loss of human life in great numbers.  The Omicron is said to be not that deadly;  however, it may be too early to give a firm opinion on this, as mutations in viruses are well known.  In addition, there is currently a combination of SARS COV-2 viruses that causes the infection.

The Delta variant virus attacked the lungs causing respiratory crises.  Therefore, the number of people requiring admission to hospitals was very high.  In contrast, the Omicron virus has been found to affect the nose and throat more, making the symptoms resemble those of a normal flu.  However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that it should not be taken lightly.  WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that "the most infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be classified as 'mild'.

The laxity of anyone, the government or the people, can be dangerous.  Proper COVID behavior should be followed in how to wear masks, wash hands, disinfect, and maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.  Respiratory droplets can be transmitted by coughing, sneezing, contact with contaminated surfaces, or even through inhaled aerosols;  therefore, each individual must take appropriate measures to reduce their exposure to these particles through the use of masks and the practice of safe social distancing measures.

Wearing a suitable mask is very important.  The mask must fit correctly to the face so that air cannot enter from the sides, but must pass through the surface of the mask.  The diameter of the virus has been found to range from 50 nm to 140 nm.  Certain masks are considered more effective in minimizing the risk of exposure, particularly N95 masks.  The protective capabilities offered by N95 masks are considered as they can remove at least 95 percent of all particles with an average diameter of 300 nm or less.  Surgical masks are gut-layered masks that offer protection.  Cotton masks have large pores and would be porous to SARS-COV-2 particles, although they may provide limited protection by blocking aqueous droplets of saliva (1).  Simple measures based on scientific information on appropriate COVID behavior are the saviors.

If Omicron does not cause serious harm, it can be beneficial, because if large numbers of people become infected but do not become seriously ill, herd immunity can develop in the population, which could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

In the last two years when the first case of SARS COV-2 was reported we have become much wiser in its diagnosis, management and prevention.  Vaccination is a big step forward.  Omicron can also infect the person who received the double vaccine, but the effect is relatively milder.  Therefore, it is important that the vaccine targets are achieved globally.  Recently, at a press conference, the head of the world health body, WHO, repeated his call for "greater equity worldwide in the distribution and access to vaccines against covid-19."  But he warned that "based on the current launch rate of the Covid-19 vaccine, 109 countries will fall short of the WHO target of 70 percent of the world's population being fully vaccinated by July."  The number of vaccinated population varies dramatically between nations.  The vaccination performance of some countries is cause for real concern.

Syria has vaccinated only 12% of its population as of January 6, 2022. Similarly, the percentage of population vaccinated in Afghanistan is 10%, Sudan 8.9%, Ethiopia 7.9% and Somalia only 7.4%.  This contrasts with 99% vaccinated in the United Arab Emirates, 92% in Cuba, 87% in China, 76% in the United Kingdom, and 74% in Sri Lanka.  India has vaccinated 63 percent of the population (2).  Since the world is well connected these days, it is important that all the countries of the world reach the vaccination target for July set by the WHO.  This is not such a difficult task.  It requires political will on the part of world leaders.  In fact, the UN should monitor the entire process and make sure that vaccines reach underperforming countries in sufficient quantities so that they can vaccinate the population on time.  If necessary, even skilled labor for the job should be available in these countries.  Any inequity in vaccination will hamper the goal of ending the Pandemic soon.  (IPA service)

Credit: Dr. Arun Mitra