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What Did We Expect?

Omicron is the inevitable consequence of rich countries hoarding vaccines and letting everyone else go to hell.

NBC News segment about the spread of the Omicron variant
NBC News

Well, here we are. Goodbye Delta world, hello Omicron world. It makes sense that these names are getting more cartoon villain-ish every time. In a nicer universe, Omicron would merely be the name of the shadowy company that a movie baddie runs, where they talk about bringing “progress” to the world but guess what, they’re just working on altering the earth’s atmosphere to kill everyone! But no, we’re here, in this universe, where Omicron is just the latest product rollout from the crappiest brand in human history. And better yet, there’s no return policy!

Sorry for seeming flip about it all, I know this is serious stuff. But at this point I can’t help throwing my hands up. What did we expect? What did we think was going to happen when the rich world decided that it wasn’t going to do more than the bare minimum to get vaccines to as many people on the planet? Now we face the consequences. From CNN (emphasis mine):

A new and potentially more transmissible variant of the virus likely emerged from a region with low vaccination rates. The new variant, known as Omicron, was first identified in South Africa, although it is unclear whether it originated there or whether it was brought into the country from elsewhere in the region.

What scientists do know is that the virus is much more likely to mutate in places where vaccination is low and transmission high.

[…] According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 7.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Across the eight countries most affected by the travel bans related to the Omicron variant, the proportion of populations that have had at least one vaccine dose ranges from 5.6% in Malawi to 37% in Botswana.

[…] COVAX is WHO’s global vaccine-sharing program. As of last month, 537 million doses have been shipped through the scheme to 144 countries — a small proportion of the 7.9 billion doses have been administered globally so far. WHO’s target of having 40% of population of all countries vaccinated by the end of 2021 and 70% by the middle of next year appears to be out of reach, with only two African countries — Morocco and Tunisia — currently on track to reach the goal.

Great job, everyone. And wouldn’t you know it, the rich (and, let us stress, mostly white!!!) world still isn’t moving with any urgency to change this situation. A proposal from India and South Africa—two of the countries which, wouldn’t you know it, have been at the center of different COVID outbreaks—to waive patents on COVID vaccines has been languishing for over a year in the teeth of opposition from Europe (Joe Biden nominally supports some kind of waiver but has done little to act on that support). Even though COVID is crippling Europe with unprecedented ferocity, and global vaccinations hold the key to driving the pandemic away, the rights of capital trump the rights of European citizens, and everyone else on Earth, to stay alive. It is as pure a reminder of who runs the world as you’ll ever get.

In one sense, this looks like the latest in a series of spectacular pandemic-themed self-owns. Here comes humanity, punching itself in the face with its own stupidity yet again! But most of us are not to blame. We’re just trying to make it through the week. We’re not punching ourselves in the face. We’re getting punched in the face by a few monsters at the top, who will happily doom this planet to hell as long as they can stay warm and dry. Omicron is their gift to the rest of us. Happy holidays.