Scientists are warning about the next pandemic even as the world is struggling to emerge from the current health crisis after two years. No one is certain when this critical phase will end. The truth is: we are still hobbled by the virus. Vaccines are doing their job but experts tell us that their potency wanes after six months. We may have to live with this coronavirus which could lose steam and become more like the common cold. In fact, four common colds in circulation are caused by coronaviruses. That should come as some consolation but the when is an unknown.
Long-term vaccine protection cannot be assessed at this point in time as we have only lived through two years of this health catastrophe. New vaccines are being developed and we have a fighting chance to be close to normal again. So, what have we learned from this crisis if anything? We know that the world should act together. Do we have the tools to prevent another health disaster that could bring the world to its knees? Yes, we have. We developed vaccines in a record year. Our previous best was four years. Will the next pandemic be worse? We don’t know for certain.
Scientists, however, paint a bleak picture and say that there is much ground to cover. Countries should act in cohesion and speak in one voice on the issue of future pandemics, they say.
Governments, meanwhile, are framing their own health policies and rolling out plans to protect their population from future pathogens that may emerge from any corner of the world. Nationalism has been the bane of the world even during pre-pandemic times and those with despotic tendencies have exploited sentiments to the full in the pursuit of political power.
This has mutated into vaccine nationalism. Despite the death and economic destruction caused by coronavirus countries cannot come to an agreement on a pandemic policy that would ensure we are better prepared for another health crisis. The World Health Organisation managed to get some countries to talk about a global pandemic policy last week but most governments are paying lip service to the proposal which is like staring into a dark abyss.
Scientists helped us develop vaccines sooner than we thought we would, but governments and agencies failed to deliver them to people in need and on time. Inequitable distribution of the jabs in Africa led to the emergence of the new variant of coronavirus.
Now, as Omicron battles for Delta for mutant supremacy, countries are scrambling to get their people vaccinated. It’s too late. Africa, where just 11 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, faces up against the developed world with over 60 per cent vaccinated. There’s a rush to get vaccines to the continent. The world has enough vaccines but speedy delivery is key.
We may have missed the bus to stop Omicron. A universal vaccine policy that prevents another variant from emerging is vital as we stare at a dangerous world of virus variants. Governments must take it further with a common policy to prevent the emergence of another deadly virus or a coronavirus. The next pandemic is closer than we think.