The arrival of the Omicron variant has illustrated the inequity of the world's COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which has seen poorer countries receive just a fraction of the dosages that richer countries have enjoyed.
Last week, news broke that a new COVID-19 variant of concern – dubbed Omicron, after the Greek letter – had been identified in South Africa, and was the likely culprit behind a recent spike in cases in that country. As of press time, the Omicron variant had already spread to more than a dozen countries, including Canada.
For the last year, global health experts have been warning that a lack of COVID-19 vaccine supply in under-developed and developing countries could lead to the emergence and spread of new variants. That's exactly what seems to have happened with Omicron, which appears to have emerged in southern Africa, where vaccination rates are quite low.
While Canada, the United States, and most European countries boast high COVID-19 immunization rates, many of the world's poorest countries have seen just a small fraction of those figures. For instance, the continent of Africa has a double-dose vaccination rate of just seven per cent, according to a Nov. 29 report from the Globe and Mail.
Global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, through the COVAX program, has not been fair or equitable. Many rich countries have been able to secure a large surplus of doses, while poorer countries have had to rely on other countries' leftovers.
We've already seen the devastating impact of the Delta variant, as it led to the fourth wave in Canada – the wave that has proven to be the deadliest, despite relatively widespread vaccination among eligible Canadians.
Though there are still plenty of unknowns when it comes to Omicron – such as how transmissible or severe it is compared to the Delta or other variants, or how effective current vaccines are against it – it feels like we've reached a new, worrisome chapter in the COVID-19 pandemic.