The Virus Strikes Back
Although COVID-19 has now killed more than five million people worldwide, global vaccine inequality remains rampant and anti-vaccine sentiment worryingly pervasive. With the new Omicron variant triggering a fresh wave of travel bans and threatening to place further strain on already overburdened health-care systems, governments need to improve the global pandemic infrastructure – and fast.
In this Big Picture, MIT’s Simon Johnson lists three reasons why governments may be much better prepared for Omicron than they think – but also urges them to combat widespread health misinformation. Winning that fight, argues Noam Titelman of the Universidad de Chile, requires not only denouncing politicians who promote false information, but also understanding the underlying motivations that lead people to believe it. For example, the University of Pennsylvania’s Kristen Ghodsee and Mitchell A. Orenstein argue that Eastern Europe’s low COVID-19 vaccination rates reflect not the legacy of communism, but rather the profound erosion of public trust that began after its collapse.
In most of the world, however, low vaccination rates reflect not a lack of will, but a lack of doses. Seth Berkley of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance warns that failure to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines will mean even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight.
But what about the future? To prevent the recurrence of tragedies like COVID-19, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown highlights the need for fundamental changes to the global public-health architecture, and calls for a legally binding international pandemic-prevention agreement – the sooner the better. After all, notes Jennifer Nuzzo of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, with the number of new infectious diseases rising fast, the next pandemic could be just around the corner.