With the postponement of the WTO session, hopes for a patent waiver for Covid vaccines and drugs this year have receded. As governments close down their borders – the UK was the first to do so, followed by countries in Europe – it is imperative that inequities in vaccination be addressed. Without 70% of the global population being vaccinated, new variants are bound to keep emerging. Developed countries and countries with production capacities, such as India, must improve vaccine supplies. A year after vaccines were first available, many countries, particularly in Africa, continue to have vaccination rates below 10%. Ironically, only 24% in South Africa are fully vaccinated. As a leading vaccine manufacturer and a developing country, India must step up production. With indigenously developed vaccine, Covaxin, now recognised by the WHO, the government must buy out its patent rights and make them available in Africa for free, for mass production. India should, as part of its South-South cooperation, set up production units in collaboration with proven partners in Africa.
Omicron calls for a scientific race against time to learn more about this virus, and efficacy of vaccines and drugs. Vigilance, robust testing and tracing protocols, stepping up production of vaccines and proven drugs, development of new vaccines targeting new variants and of new drugs must be on the priority list of governments. If ever there was a moment for ‘leaving no one behind’ to be more than a cliche, it is now.