The detection of the deadly COVID-19 variant, Omicron, has shown that the war against the pandemic should be intensified by all countries until it is contained. There is also need for urgent global action against the virus by world leaders. That is why the call for vaccine equity must be accorded full attention by advanced and wealthy nations.
The Omicron variant, which was detected in South Africa earlier in November, has spread to several countries, including Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi. The variant has been reported in the United Kingdom, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Belgium and Hong Kong. The Canadian authorities had detected Omicron in two Nigerian travellers.
Also, Nigeria has confirmed three cases of Omicron in the country. Already, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had on November 26 2021, designated the variant B.1.1.529, named Omicron, a variant of concern on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution.
The decision of the global health agency on the new variant was reportedly based on the evidence presented to its technical advisory group that Omicron has several mutations, which affect how it spreads and the severity of the illness it causes. According to WHO, Omicron has spread to 23 countries across the world. It is also likely that the number of countries that will detect Omicron will increase in the days ahead.
In a bid to prevent further spread of the new deadly variant of COVID-19 disease in its territory, the Canadian authorities have banned travellers from Nigeria, Egypt, and Malawi. Other African countries affected by the ban include Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The spread of the new COVID-19 variant and its presence in Nigeria is a wake-up call on the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to swing into action to contain further spread of the deadly virus in the country. Already, the NCDC had commenced contact tracing of three persons who tested positive for Omicron. Rather than resort to indiscriminate travel ban, the NCDC said it would intensify efforts towards mass vaccination as well as ensure adequate surveillance and vigilance at all entry borders. The centre must do all within its powers to save the country from the effects of the third wave of the pandemic.
The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 should enlighten Nigerians on the new deadly variant and how to prevent it. The enforcement of approved COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical measures, such as wearing of nose mask, avoidance of crowds, social distancing and washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, must be pursued with vigour.
Unfortunately, some of these measures are no longer strictly observed in most of our worship centres, schools, markets and others. The emergence of Omicron after the Delta deadly variant shows clearly that a lot of work has to be done to decimate the pandemic globally. Since vaccination remains the most veritable antidote against the virus for now, let the government procure more COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that more eligible Nigerians are fully vaccinated.
Instead of enforcement or mandatory vaccination, let people be persuaded to take the jabs. The government should make effort to give booster jabs to enhance the immunity of those already vaccinated. The detection of the new deadly variant in some African countries is not enough to stigmatise citizens or travellers from the affected countries as well as the blanket travel ban imposed on them by Canada and others. African countries should not be maligned in the fight against the pandemic.
COVID-19 is a global health problem of great concern. It should not be used to stigmatise any country. The politicisation of the pandemic by powerful nations is regrettable. What is needed now is concerted global approach to the war against the pandemic. The current vaccine nationalism observable in some advanced countries will rather fuel further spread of the virus than contain it.
There is need to share information on the mutation of the virus and how best to contain it. Instead of vaccine nationalism, the world should embrace vaccine equity. Until COVID-19 vaccines get to all corners of the world, no country can truly be said to be free from the pandemic, irrespective of travel bans.
We call on world leaders to work in concert to ensure vaccine equity. African leaders must lead the fight to contain the virus on the continent. African nations must strengthen the capacity of its research institutions to develop efficacious COVID-19 vaccines. We should not always depend on other nations for our medical needs.