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Opinion
David Fickling

Only Winning Over Skeptics Can Avoid Shocks Like Omicron

Boosting vaccine supply will be good, but not enough. Rich nations should act on the developing world’s wider public health concerns to reduce the space for Covid mutations.

South Africa’s population is older and has been hit harder by Covid than in other African countries. 

South Africa’s population is older and has been hit harder by Covid than in other African countries. 

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

How do we ensure that the world has access to the Covid-19 vaccines needed to prevent more variants like the latest omicron strain from emerging?

One disturbingly common response to calls from the World Health Organization and others to increase the availability of doses in emerging economies is to suggest supply isn’t really the problem, but demand. South Africa, where omicron was first identified, provides one data point in favor of this hypothesis. Despite the fact that barely 24% of the population has been fully vaccinated, the Department of Health last week asked Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc. to suspend delivery of vaccines because its existing stockpile was more than enough at current lackluster rates of uptake.