Dr. Peter Singer, special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization, seemed to suggest on Thursday that the emergence of a “highly mutated” COVID-19 variant was due to vaccine hoarding in richer countries.
Singer tweeted: “How to double injustice and injustice? Deny countries vaccines so they generate variants and when they then impose travel restrictions.”
Newsweek has contacted Singer for further comments.
His post sparked criticism on social media, with some Twitter users pointing out that vaccine supply no longer seemed to be an issue in South Africa, where the B.1.1.529 variant has been registered. Several governments have imposed travel restrictions on the country within the past 24 hours.
The WHO has previously called for vaccine equity and has said that new variants of coronavirus will most likely appear in unvaccinated sections of the global population.
The B.1.1.529 variant has 32 mutations of its peak protein and has been described as the “most worrying we’ve seen” by the UK’s chief medical officer for health and safety. It is said to have twice as many mutations as the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The variant is found in Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana as well as South Africa. Only 59 cases have been confirmed so far, but scientists are concerned that it is spreading and potentially proving to be resistant to vaccines.
South Africa has experienced a slower vaccination rate than many western countries. About 28 percent of the population is vaccinated and 24 percent fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, by November 24 – higher than many other African countries, but well below the government’s target for the end of the year.
In South Africa, vaccines quickly turned from a supply problem to a demand problem. Although there was initially a shortage of supplies, many South Africans are now skeptical of the vaccine and choose not to receive it.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the South African government had asked Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to postpone the supply of vaccines because it has too much stock.
“There is a lot of apathy and hesitation,” Shabir Madhi told the news paper. Madhi led the clinical trial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa.
In response to concerns about B.1.1.529, the British government added six South African countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini – to its red list for travel to England. Flights from these countries are prohibited from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. Thereafter, travelers from these nations must be quarantined in hotels.
Israel has introduced similar measures for these six countries plus Mozambique. Singapore and Japan have also announced measures to restrict travel from South Africa and neighboring regions, while Australia and New Zealand say they are assessing the situation closely. The EU is also said to be considering banning flights.
On Thursday, Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK, The independent that flying in a “massive influx” of auxiliary or vaccine supplies could help control the new variant.
Francois Balloux, professor of computer systems biology and director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said on Wednesday that the variant “probably developed during a chronic infection in an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV / AIDS patient.”
He added: “It is difficult to predict how transferable it may be at present. So far it should be closely monitored and analyzed, but there is no reason to be overly concerned unless it starts to increase in frequency in the near future. . “