Covid: new variant shows why we need to vaccinate the world - Scotsman leader comment

News that a new, worrying variant of Covid-19 had been discovered in South Africa will have prompted a natural response among many of us: "When will this end?"

South Africa has managed to vaccinate only 24 per cent of its population – and is faring better than many in that continent

But we can't say we weren't warned these setbacks would come – and that they would be driven both by the virus's natural evolution, and the decisions of nations and their populations.

Virologists warned from early in the pandemic that if the world only managed to vaccinate those in its richest nations, an enormous pool of people would be left vulnerable. The virus would tear through the unvaccinated, mutating along the way, finding its way out, prolonging the pandemic for all.

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Yet even before vaccinations had even started in earnest, vast numbers of doses had already been divided between the world's richest nations, including the UK. Many middle and low income countries were left to fend for themselves, or secure doses through the United Nation's Covax initiative. The die had been cast.

Today, according to the Our World In Data project, the world overall is only 42 per cent vaccinated. While Austria has gone into another lockdown and mandated vaccinations, 65 per cent of its population already have both jabs. South Africa, though, has managed to vaccinate only 24 per cent of its population – and is faring better than many in that continent.

Yet until we can vaccinate every country to a level close to our own, our chances of peace from this virus are greatly reduced. The risk is that further mutations render our current, first-generation vaccines ineffective.

We do not know if – or the extent to which – the B.1.1.529 variant will bypass our immunity, and the vaccines. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is right to say there's no need to "hit the panic button" over this new strain. But the latest developments do underscore the need to shake off any complacency at home – our masks, handwashing and other precautions continue to make sense.

And, beyond our personal concerns, the latest developments invite us to think about the world we want to live in. With Covid as with many other matters, to fully help ourselves we must also look to help others as well.


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