NDTV Coronavirus

“Vaccine Inequity Tragic”: IMF’s Gita Gopinath To NDTV Amid Omicron Rise


Gita Gopinath is currently the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund

New Delhi:

Vaccine inequity – or poorer countries’ lack of access to Covid vaccines – in the face of the growing Omicron threat is tragic, IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath told NDTV today, as she spelt out the stark difference in vaccination rates between the two and the impact this could have on the world.

“Vaccine inequity is tragic. We are at the end of 2021 with high-income countries having vaccinated 70 per cent of their population and lower-income countries less than four per cent. The target was to vaccinate 40 per cent of the population in every country by the end of this year… 80 countries won’t meet that mark. For the vast majority, it is because they don’t have enough doses,” she said.

“For instance, COVAX contracts with manufacturers… only 18 per cent of doses have been delivered. They haven’t been prioritizing deliveries. Dose donations pledged by high-income countries were 1.5 billion… only 300 million have been delivered so far,” Ms Gopinath told NDTV.

Ms Gopinath underlined the need for both manufacturers and developed countries – particularly those who had pledged vaccine doses to less fortunate nations – to prioritise those deliveries.

“There is also a big demand for booster doses (fueled by fears over Omicron’s vaccine-evasion mutations) … worried this might (again affect) supplies to low-income countries,” she said, as she called on developed countries to refrain from restraining export of vaccines and medical equipment.

Booster doses for have been widely encouraged by experts and the governments of many developed nations have offered this to their citizens, sparking concern over more stockpiling of doses at the expense of those in poorer countries who have yet to receive even one dose.

Boosters have not yet been announced by the Indian government, although it has told the Delhi High Court it is studying the issue. Serum Institute has offered its stockpile of Covishield doses for this purpose, but the government has yet to accept.

The call to accelerate sharing of vaccines comes as the Omicron variant – which early studies suggest infects a devastating 70 times faster than the Delta, and is widely believed to be more resistant to current vaccines – threatens to derail the global economy’s tentative recovery.

Ms Gopinath said the IMF (International Monetary Fund) was closely tracking developments on the Omicron front, but hadn’t yet decided how significant its impact will be on the world.

“What we do know is that cases are going up rapidly… it seems to be much more infectious than Delta. It could be less severe, but if the numbers (of people infected) are that big it could overwhelm the hospital system. We are already seeing reactions in terms of restriction on travel and mobility, which obviously has implications for the economy,” she said.

The global economy’s recovery has been endangered by the renewal of restrictions by several countries – including India and more developed nations – over fear of the Omicron variant.

The Financial Times this week said those rules had triggered a fall in Transatlantic travel. Earlier this month, travel operators from India told NDTV of an estimated 20 per cent cancellations.

The COVAX programme is a global vaccine-sharing initiative launched by the United Nations and its partners that aims to provide doses to over 90 middle- and low-income countries.

These include several countries in Asia and a significant number of African and Oceanic nations whose governments would otherwise not be able to buy the required number of doses to contain the virus and allow both its and the world’s economy to recover.

The Omicron variant – believed to have 50 mutations, of which more than 30 are on the spike protein that is the target of current vaccines – was first detected in South Africa last month.

Although South Africa is not currently on the list of countries receiving COVID-19 vaccine doses under the COVAX scheme, neighbouring nations like Eswatini and Tanzania, which have reported Omicron cases and from where people are traveling to India, are on the list.

India has reported over 60 Omicron cases so far, since confirming its first two cases on December 2.