As Omicron arrives in the west, wealthy countries are reaping what they sowed

Perhaps no other moment in the pandemic has lent more truth to the often ignored mantra that “no one is safe until we are all safe.” Variants, experts say, are one deadly side effect of vaccine inequality — and a global system that has allowed wealthy nations, and large developing ones, to corral jabs for themselves, leaving poorer and less powerful countries to subsist on vaccine crumbs.

Low vaccination rates have also made those nations potential breeding grounds for viral mutations that can then quickly spread in a globalized world. Full vaccination rates in the United States, France and China stand at 60 percent, 70 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Compare that to only 6 percent for Africa’s 1.2 billion people.

“Our achievements in our own country are at high risk because of the failures outside of our country, because of vaccine nationalism, not just in the United States and Europe, but also India and China,” J. Stephen Morrison, director of the global health policy center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me over the weekend. “If you have uncontrolled transmission in large populations, that is the optimum environment for generating new variants. In Africa, you have a 6 percent vaccination rate. You’re going to get mutations.”