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After WHO, Indian medical associations urge rich countries not to stockpile Covid products & vaccines

Laxmi Yadav, Mumbai
Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Close on the heels of World Health Organization’s clarion call to rich nations to stop hoarding Covid products and vaccines, Organized Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG), a federation of 15 professional associations of post-graduate doctors in India, has urged wealthy countries not to stockpile Covid products as it is not only prolonging the fight against the pandemic but also leading to failure of the global fight against the coronavirus.

No rich nation can alone firewall itself from the Covid pandemic in this world of growing interdependence and globalisation. Not only coronavirus from Wuhan, China, had spread on every continent including Antarctica in a short span of time, but even the new Delta strain has spread to over 180 nations wreaking havoc, said Dr Ishwar Gilada, secretary general, OMAG.

“The only possible way out is, never alone, but if we stand together as global humanity, fully vaccinate everyone in a time-bound manner, thereby reduce severity of illness drastically, curtail transmission of infection, and hope for herd immunity to kick in leading us to the end of the pandemic era culminating it in to endemic,” stated Dr Gilada.

Rich nations are not only hoarding many times more doses than their population now, but they have been doing this even before any of the vaccines were even officially approved by the vaccine regulators and the WHO. In 2020, when research was then underway for most promising vaccine candidates (and scientific verdict was not yet out on their efficacy), rich countries had pre-bought more doses than they needed, shunting the rest of the world backwards in the queue, he said.

Now nine months later, because of the selfish attitude of the rich nations, we have stark contrast in full vaccination coverage globally – rich nations stand with over 80 per cent of their population fully vaccinated (and some have begun third or booster dose) while low- and middle-income countries struggle their way to even reach the WHO target of 10 per cent vaccination in their population by September end, OMAG secretary general added.

According to data published in the Nature, the rich countries have purchased 4.5 to 9 doses per person for their people – Canada 9, USA 7.5, UK 6, Australia 5.5 and European Union 4.5 doses per person.

It is over 9 months now since the Covid vaccination began in the world and 5.9 billion doses have been administered worldwide – but over 80 per cent of these doses were given in rich nations. Countries like Singapore, France, Uruguay and Chile have over 80 per cent vaccination coverage; European Union nations and UK have over 60 per cent vaccination coverage, over 55 per cent in USA. India has over 20 per cent fully vaccinated population. But low-and middle-income countries have very low vaccination coverage generally. In African continent for example, 3.6 per cent people have received their full vaccine dose so far. Its mockery of ‘one world-one health’ concept, opined Dr Gilada.

Rich nations had promised to donate one billion excess vaccine doses they have been stockpiling but so far only 15 per cent of this ‘donation’ has been given to African nations. More painful is to learn that millions of doses being wasted or discarded in rich countries when the need is so acute in low-income nations. Vaccines have short expiry of 6 to 9 months, he rued.

“Covid pandemic is an important litmus test for human race to walk the talk on oft-quoted slogan of ‘no one left behind’. If we leave any nation behind in Covid vaccination, then we will be making everyone more vulnerable to new, possibly more virulent variants due to uncontrolled spread that could be averted. By stockpiling rich nations are knowingly committing not only a scientific and epidemiological blunder, but also will fail every country worldwide in its earnest effort to end the pandemic,” he stated.

That is why every nation should be very worried about those nations or populations where vaccine coverage is abysmally low. This is also why rich nations should be more worried about unvaccinated populations worldwide than the waning immunity cover of their fully vaccinated populations, he added.

The data is not strong enough on booster dose yet, but is emerging on waning immunity levels among some populations who have received particular vaccines. While we wait for stronger evidence to emerge on booster dose rationale, we cannot afford to let the golden time slip away with appalling slow vaccination pace, he said, adding, that is why the WHO has called for global moratorium on booster dose till end of this year so that at least 40 per cent of the world’s population can be fully vaccinated by then.

But despite the moratorium call from the WHO, countries like USA have given booster dose to over 1.3 million people and France and UK have also begun providing booster doses.

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) studies at Guwahati and Pune and similar studies elsewhere established that those who have Covid IgG antibodies following natural infection need only one vaccine dose, as there is no difference in antibodies levels after single dose or two doses. This can help reduce vaccine requirement by using simple point-of-care blood test to see the presence of Covid IgG antibodies and saving one dose of vaccine among those who test IgG positive, Dr Gilada summed up.

 

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