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From the file

The Arms Race | We need to get the world vaccinated as fast as possible. We’re in an arms race: vaccines vs variants.

Covid couldn’t care less about borders
Slow Views

Covid couldn’t care less about borders

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Global vaccination is a moral imperative. But it’s also self-preservation: if the virus continues to mutate in unvaccinated parts of the world, we could all be back to square one

I won’t lie: I’ve had a complicated route through the vaccination process. My first was straightforward enough, with the usual 24 hours of jet lag. But the second brought with it a bout of ophthalmic nerve shingles so intense I wanted to rip my own head off.

It’s not a pretty disease – for a fortnight I looked for all the world like a drunk owl with a Siamese twin living inside my forehead with only her anus on show. It was quite the display.

I’m very active on Twitter and chose, quite deliberately, not to link anything about my reaction to the second jab into my main timeline. I had one very short chat about it with a pal on a sidebar, but that was it. I had shingles but didn’t want to deter anyone from getting their jabs. It was rotten luck and that was that.

We’re entering dangerous days in the UK. We have a bored prime minister who seems to want shot of all his responsibilities, a man who is only happy when he’s entertaining, an after-dinner speaker who has somehow landed the most serious job imaginable. It’s like watching a stand-up comedian have a go at brain surgery for a Channel 5 series – and no good will come of it.

With a government hellbent on pretending we’re not in the grip of rising cases and whose policy is now to let the virus rip through the younger generation over the summer holidays when they’ve deemed it to be less disruptive, it’s more important than ever that anyone eligible to do so gets their jabs.

Yes, you might feel a bit lousy. Yes, you might have an adverse reaction as I did. But Covid is not flu: Covid is a dangerous, highly transmissible pathogen that has left millions with debilitating Long Covid, hundreds of thousands hospitalised, and many, many dead. Forget what our bored prime minister is telling you: wear your mask, keep your distance, wash your hands. We’re not safe until we’re all safe.

There’s been much fanfare about the success of the UK vaccination programme, and we’re right to be proud of it. Our NHS has done a phenomenal job, but Covid doesn’t begin and end at our borders. The richer nations have done well in scooping the vast majority of the world’s available vaccines into their shopping trolleys, like a global version of Supermarket Sweep; but this has created an enormous problem, a timebomb waiting to explode.

The reason we are now in the grip of the Delta variant is that Covid likes to mutate – give the virus a population where it can run riot and it will become a more virulent version of itself.

Poorer nations, where population density and inadequate sanitary conditions are a gift to the virus, are lagging behind on vaccines. In Africa alone, less than 10 per cent of the population will be vaccinated by September.

This is not, as some protectionists would like you to believe, their problem; the lack of vaccines in poorer nations is a problem for all of us. Africa needs 225 million doses now if it’s going to stand even the slightest chance of hitting that 10 per cent target by September. Every week that goes by where they do not have an adequate delivery of vaccines is a week where further infection can take hold and increases the risk of mutation.

Given the efficiency of the Covid pathogen, it’s not impossible to imagine one of those future mutations being completely vaccine resistant. If that happens, we’re all back to square one.

There is an urgency to getting the world vaccinated. It’s not good enough to make promises or declare good intentions. What is required is immediate action, no ifs, no buts. The UK government has committed to sending 100 million doses of vaccine to Africa, which is wonderful. But, inexplicably, the delivery is staggered over the course of the next year. Only the initial five million of those doses will be handed over in September. It’s going to be too little, too late.

Covid isn’t hanging about waiting for humanity to deal it a knockout blow. It’s on the rampage. Let’s put pressure on our government and all those in the G7 – and call for a global rollout with the urgency we all require.

Emma Kennedy is an author and screenwriter

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