By Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr.
Omicron – the new COVID-19 variant – is now up and running. While southern Africa appears to be its epicenter, countries around the world, including Britain, Canada, Australia, Israel and many others, are now reporting cases of the new variant. Dr Anthony Fauci calls it “inevitable” that he will come or already be in the United States. We know the variant is highly contagious, but it’s still unclear how serious it is or how resistant it will be to vaccines.
The reason we know about Omicron is because South African scientists detected it early and their government immediately informed the world. Unfortunately, instead of being rewarded, South Africa is now being punished for its responsibility, with the United States leading a number of countries in imposing travel restrictions on those coming from Africa. South and other African countries – without offering any economic aid to compensate for the losses. imposed.
These travel bans are popular politically, but medically ineffective. We have seen this in relation to the initial outbreak of COVID-19. Former President Donald Trump restricted travel from China, but the ban did not apply to U.S. citizens and was not associated with large-scale testing at the border and across the country. The virus had already escaped from China and European travelers brought it to the United States. Prohibition is a wall, but a wall cannot stop airborne disease.
President Biden’s ban promises to be just as ineffective. It is also unrelated to aggressive testing and tracking at the border and across the country. Omicron is already spreading in countries not subject to travel restrictions. This is, as one writer noted, pandemic theater, not public health.
Less than 4 percent of the African population has been vaccinated. The others are in desperate need of it. They don’t need a travel ban. They must be transported, with medicines and public health infrastructure. We need to vaccinate them, not ban them.
This ill-treatment is both unfair and senseless. Africa’s poorest countries have the most health needs – yet have the least access to vaccines, tests and treatment.
We cannot ignore them. The modern globe is closely linked through travel, commerce, tourism, migration, and more. Global pandemics spread before they are even noticed enough to trigger a public reaction. To counter a global pandemic, the whole world must be mobilized and involved. If countries are ignored or left behind, they can become incubators of new variations that sweep the world. The threat is global; the answer must be comprehensive.
Yet, as the international director of the World Health Organization noted in February, 2.5 billion people in the world’s 130 poor countries have not been vaccinated. The 85 poorest countries will not see mass vaccination until 2023. As he noted, “the humanitarian cost is unforgivable – and doomed to failure, as every person infected is a potential source of new strains.”
Repeated promises that vaccines would be made available to poor countries have been broken. Neither the vaccines nor the resources to set up systems capable of delivering them have been provided. Pharmaceutical companies, making huge profits from widely developed vaccines with public funds, have fought to retain their monopolies and resist efforts to make vaccine production available worldwide.
South Africa has undergone this treatment previously in connection with the treatment of AIDS. Pharmaceutical companies, protected by rich countries, refused to allow cheaper generic versions to be manufactured and distributed. They even sued the government of Nelson Mandela in South Africa when it acted to allow the importation of generics. Only overwhelming global outrage forced the drug companies to put aside the lawsuit and strike a deal.
This week, more than 2 million nurses from 28 countries called on the United Nations to investigate rich countries – namely the European Union, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Norway – which have blocked the lift patents for coronavirus vaccines. Significantly, Joe Biden has aligned the United States on the waiver side.
Lamenting the failure of pharmaceutical companies and governments to ensure that “essential treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably,” the nurses’ statement notes that this is not only unfair, but dangerous, opening up space for the development of new ones. variants that could “pose a risk hazard to people across the world.” Even as they lodged their protest, a meeting of the World Trade Organization’s Council for Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights was postponed due to the continuing division over vaccine availability.
No one is safe until everyone is safe. African lives are as precious as those of those who live in rich countries. In the modern world, borders cannot be sealed and walls will not stop the spread of pandemics. Today more than ever, we are, as Dr Martin Luther King taught us, âcaught up in an inevitable web of reciprocity, bound by one garment of fate. Everything that affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
We need to rethink our real security priorities. Instead of wasting hundreds of billions on a new arms race with China, we should unite China and the rich nations of the world to build needed public health capacity across the world, while mobilizing to manufacture vaccines. universally available treatments, masks and other protections. Instead of letting drug companies ration drugs by price, we should hire them – as we did private companies during World War II – to share vaccines and build production capacity around the world.
We don’t yet know how threatening Omicron is. We know the COVID-19 pandemic is not over; that death is still on the march, and that new variants will sprout in areas where people are not protected. Crouching down, putting profit before people will not succeed. Instead of banning travel from Africa, President Biden should shed light on Africa and lead efforts to reach out.
The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., Founder and Chairman of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil, religious and political rights figures.