We are in the race against COVID-19 and we are losing - once again it is our failure to think globally that is holding us back. While new variants of COVID-19 are to be expected, as we know from other viruses, vaccinating the world is the best chance we have in staying ahead of the virus and avoiding a situation in which our vaccines no longer provide us with protection.
Despite the success of the UK vaccination programme, the emergence of the omicron variant reinforces that the control of the pandemic relies on the effective management of COVID-19 in all countries. As public health professionals we recognise that this is fundamentally an issue about equity - in particular, vaccine equity. In the UK over 80% of the population is fully vaccinated and almost 30% have received a third booster dose whilst only 6.6% of the population in Africa are fully vaccinated. So far, wealthier nations have monopolized vaccine procurement and have secured enough supplies to vaccinate their entire populations several times over. However, this is neither an effective nor an ethical use of a scarce resource. It is essential that vaccines are distributed fairly and prioritised for regions who have yet to vaccinate their at-risk populations. The consequences of not doing this will only result in more dangerous variants emerging, which may escape our current vaccines and therapies - presenting a very real threat to the UK.
To improve global vaccination efforts, we must also ensure that all countries are able to produce and deliver their own vaccines to their own people. Not only are we in wealthier nations hoarding vaccines, but we physically limit the expansion of vaccination programmes in low-income countries through enforcing intellectual property protections and import restrictions. This is grossly unjust as well as detrimental to the overall international effort to combat COVID-19. Now, more than ever, we need global solidarity to tackle the pandemic and fight back against new variants. We urge all national leaders to back a waiver for intellectual property protections related to COVID-19 vaccines, to ensure that all countries have the tools to effectively vaccinate their populations. Pandemics are by definition global threats. As a global community we have fought it together thus far, sharing information, solutions, resources and hope. The pandemic - and its impact on the UK - does not end until everyone is safe.
Full list of signatories: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.17088896.v2
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