- 29 Nov 21
"What is going on right now was inevitable. It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner," Dr. Ayoade Alakija of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance told BBC News. Her words on the Omicron Variant should be listened to, as a matter of grave urgency, by politicians and policy-makers across the world...
After a new COVID-19 variant was identified in South Africa last week, and named the Omicron Variant, the UK and the EU have increased travel restrictions to and from the country – and also other African ones where it has been found so far.
In response, a significant figure in the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, Dr. Ayoade Alakija, has sharply criticised world leaders' handling of the pandemic, calling the new variant "inevitable" due to "vaccine hoarding."
"May I say, firstly, that – had the first SARS COVID virus, the one that was first identified in China last year originated in Africa – it is now clear that the world would have locked us away and thrown away the key," she said, speaking on BBC News.
"There would have been no urgency to develop vaccines because we would have been expendable, Africa would have become known as the continent of COVID.
"What is going on right now was inevitable. It results from the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner. It is a result of hoarding by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly, it is unacceptable. These travel bans are based in politics and not in science: it is wrong.
"Let's hope this is a dress rehearsal that we're seeing right now with the Omicron variant and not the main event. The science, we don't know yet. What we can say about COVID and about this current variant, is that until everyone is vaccinated, no one is safe."
In a powerful interview Dr. Alakija asked searching questions of the policy-makers in wealthy countries in particular, and criticised the response to Omicron.
"What exactly is the global playbook on this?," she said. "What are we planning to do? Are we just planning to act politically? Knee-jerk reaction so that we can satisfy those people within our countries that 'We're keeping those unvaccinated Africans out'? Why are the Africans unvaccinated? It's an outrage, because we knew we were going to get here.
"We knew this is where the hoarding, the lack of IP (intellectual property) waivers, the lack of co-operation on sharing tech, and sharing know-how – we knew this was a crossroads that it was going to bring us to. It was always going to get us more dangerous variants. Why are we acting surprised?"
Dr. Alakija then compared how African countries had been treated to the response to other nations where variants have been found.
"Why are we locking away Africa when this virus is already on three continents? Nobody's looking away Belgium or Israel? It is wrong. It is also time that our African leaders stand up and they find their voice. African leadership needs to step up in this moment – all Presidents need to wake up and realise that this is not business as usual. Their continent is at stake, our lives are at stake – and we cannot allow the world to do this to us. My recommendation is: have a coordinated global shutdown of travel for the next month if you want, but don't single out Africa, don't single out South Africa."
She then reiterated the point of how vaccine hoarding led to the likelihood of more virus variants like Omicron – adding the accusation that African countries were being charged more than other countries, as well as being shifted to the back of the queue.
"Botswana actually is where the virus was first identified," she stated, "but do you know what was going on with Botswana a few months ago? The Government of Botswana ordered 500,000 Moderna vaccines at $29 per dose, much higher than the rest of the world paid.
"They did not get those vaccines because other people jumped ahead in the queue. Moderna supplied to other countries and did not supply to Botswana – so now we have a variant.
"Do we know where this variant originated? No, we don't even know that yet. It could possibly be that the excellent science in South Africa has found it, but it could very well have come from anywhere else.
"This is discriminatory," she added, "it is xenophobia and it is wrong. Let us follow science and not politics. Let us allow African countries and others to produce their own vaccines so that we do not get to another variant which we cannot absolutely control."
It was a polemical and emotional interview, laced with anger. But the arguments were well-made, putting this latest crisis into perspective. It has long been said: "No one is safe until everyone is safe." In underlining that in compelling terms on BBC News, Dr. Ayoade Alakija has done us all a service. Now, we need action.