By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja
• Massive new bird flu outbreak could be 2022’s deadly pandemic
• 10 million Nigerians get the first dose as WHO laments missing global 40% vaccination target
• China, Germany impose new lockdowns to curb Omicron
The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called on countries of the world to prepare for the next pandemic as COVID-19 will not be the last.
Guterres said this in his message late on Monday to mark the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness, which was held on December 27 to advocate the importance of prevention of, preparedness for and partnership against epidemics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of investing in systems to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.
The first-ever International Day of Epidemic Preparedness was held last year, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) working closely with governments to support efforts to build strong emergency and epidemic preparedness systems, as part of an overall approach to advance universal health coverage and strengthen primary healthcare systems.
The UN boss said: “COVID-19 demonstrated how quickly an infectious disease can sweep across the world, push health systems to the brink, and upend daily life for all of humanity.
“It also revealed our failure to learn the lessons of recent health emergencies like SARS, avian influenza, Zika, Ebola and others. And it reminded us that the world remains woefully unprepared to stop localised outbreaks from spilling across borders and spiralling into a global pandemic.
“COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic humanity will face. Infectious diseases remain a clear and present danger to every country.
“As we respond to this health crisis, we need to prepare for the next one. This means scaling-up investments in better monitoring, early detection and rapid response plans in every country — especially the most vulnerable.
“It means strengthening primary healthcare at the local level to prevent collapse. It means ensuring equitable access to life-saving interventions like vaccines for all people.
“And it means achieving Universal Health Coverage. Most of all, it means building global solidarity to give every country a fighting chance to stop infectious diseases in their tracks.”
The UN boss added that by building global solidarity, every country would have a fighting chance “to stop infectious diseases in their tracks.”
Earlier in the month, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed the decision of a special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the UN agency’s top decision-making body to develop a new global accord on pandemic prevention and response.
ISRAEL’S National Security Council has assumed control of a massive bird flu outbreak in Galilee, which scientists warn could become a “mass disaster” for humans.
Over half a billion migrating birds pass through the area every year, heading for warm African winters or balmy European summers, making this a catastrophic location for a major bird flu outbreak—right at the nexus of global avian travel.
The virus can be deadly if it infects people. WHO said more than half of the confirmed 863 human cases it has tracked since 2003 proved fatal. Most strains or variants of avian flu, H5N1, are relatively difficult to transmit to people.
Yossi Leshern, one of Israel’s most renowned ornithologists told newsmen that it is the ability of these viruses to mutate into new strains that pose such a threat as we have seen with the Coronavirus.
“There could be a mutation that also infects people and turns into a mass disaster,” said Leshem, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun.
So far, at least 5,400 wild cranes have died infected with the new H5N1 avian flu, which Israeli authorities fear could expand into a global emergency.
MEANWHILE, as cases of the new Omicron variant continue to spread like wildfire, 70 per cent of COVID vaccines have been distributed to the world’s 10 largest economies, and the poorest countries have received just 0.8 per cent, according to the UN, calling it “not only unjust but also a threat to the entire planet.”
To end this cycle, the world body underscored that at least 70 per cent of the population in every country must be inoculated, which the UN vaccine strategy aims to achieve by mid-2022, although this will require at least 11 billion vaccine doses.
“An outbreak anywhere is a potential pandemic everywhere”, said the Secretary-General.”
Just about three per cent of the almost eight billion doses given globally have been administered in Africa, and only around eight per cent of Africans are fully vaccinated, compared with more than 60 per cent in many high-income countries.
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), however, said approximately 10 million Nigerians have received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The Executive Director, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, in an update, said Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Jigawa and Osun states were the leading states and contributed 36 per cent to the number of vaccinated persons.
“As of December 26, 9,765,729 eligible persons targeted received the first dose, while 4,363,620 got the second dose,” he confirmed.
He said vaccines remain the best way to protect people from Coronavirus and save lives, adding that the Federal Government has approved three vaccines and had secured early access for more doses.
HOWEVER, WHO has stated that it will miss its target to vaccinate 40 per cent of the population in every country by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by the middle of next year, revealing that vaccination shortfalls are especially low in Africa and some developing countries in America and Asia.
More or less than half of WHO’s 194 member countries will not meet the global vaccination goal to vaccinate the greater population of the world.
WHO also noted that less than 10 per cent of the population had not been vaccinated, in about 40 countries.
In a statement, yesterday, on its website, titled: ‘Vaccine Equity, it is only possible until it is done,’ it noted that “WHO set a target for all countries to vaccinate 10 per cent of their populations by the end of September. 56 countries effectively excluded from the global vaccine marketplace were not able to reach this target – and most of them are in Africa.
“Even more countries are at risk of missing the WHO targets of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70 per cent by the middle of next year.”
The data provided by WHO said that while in Germany, about 171 vaccine doses per 100 inhabitants had been administered, in Madagascar its vaccination intake was under 2.7 per 100. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 0.32 vaccine had been administered to the population so far. In most countries in Africa, vaccination intake remains below the two-digit range.
WHO attributed much of the blame on vaccine hoarding, particularly among a handful of wealthy Western countries, which are already administering booster jabs. The world body also expressed concern with the lack of COVID-19 vaccine licences to countries.
It noted that pharmaceutical firms have also expressed reluctance to share technical know-how to manufacturers despite the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and the mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub put in place by the world health body.
Although some progress have been made to transfer technology, especially in South Africa, little or no progress has been made worldwide.
The statement on the WHO website asserted that “the global failure to share vaccines equitably is taking its toll on some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. New variants of concern mean that the risks of infection have increased in all countries for people who are not yet protected by vaccination.”
Dozens of countries are dependent on supplies from COVAX, the UN-backed vaccine-sharing programme intended to get shots in the arms of people in lower-income countries. Prosperous countries have been called out for not doing enough to support global vaccine equity through COVAX.
Worldwide, more than 8.6 billion vaccine doses had been administered by Tuesday, but mostly in high-income countries that have the resources to secure their own contracts with vaccine manufacturers.
By the last week of December, COVAX had delivered 722 million doses.
On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry is convinced that it is not a lack of doses that is responsible for the imbalance in vaccination intake in the world.
According to estimates by the pharmaceutical association, IFPMA, about 1.4 billion vaccine doses were manufactured in December alone. Rather, it states that vaccination scepticism is high in many countries, and many have a problem with vaccine distribution.
WHO, however, disagrees with the notion of the pharmaceutical association, noting that the countries would be ready if they received the doses in an organised and timely fashion.
Although, many western countries have collectively pledged more than a billion doses as donations, the WHO laments that deliveries often take a long time to materialise.
Some of the jabs also have only a few weeks left until the expiry date, which makes a distribution to poorer countries, especially complicated.
WHO further warned yesterday that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed healthcare systems even though early studies suggest it leads to milder disease, as China and Germany brought back tough restrictions to stamp out new infection surges.
China put hundreds of thousands more people under lockdown, while infections hit new highs in multiple U.S. states and European countries.
COVID-19 surges have wreaked havoc around the world, with many nations trying to strike a balance between economically punishing restrictions and controlling the spread of the virus.
The United States has halved the isolation period for asymptomatic cases to try and blunt the disruption, while France has ordered firms to have employees work from home at least three days a week.
Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row heading into the New Year, as Europe’s biggest economy shuttered nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors.
The surges in many countries have been propelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. WHO warned against complacency even though preliminary findings suggest that Omicron could lead to milder disease.
“A rapid growth of Omicron even if combined with a slightly milder disease, will still result in large numbers of hospitalisations, particularly amongst unvaccinated groups, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” warned WHO Europe’s COVID-19 Incident Manager, Catherine Smallwood.
Beyond social strife, the pandemic has been punishing economically, in particular for sectors like travels.
Some 11,500 flights have been scrapped worldwide since Friday, and tens of thousands more delayed, during one of the year’s busiest travel periods. Multiple airlines have blamed staffing shortages caused by spikes of Omicron cases.