The Hypocrisy of the Omicron Travel Ban


Milan Mallawaaratchy, Contributor

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly and is more deadly than previous variants. It is not uncommon for people to think that within global healthcare, humans as a species must unite and fight against a global threat, regardless of nation or wealth. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
The European Union as well as the United Kingdom must be held accountable for the ignorance of the pandemic within lower income nations. The United States is not innocent either, it is guilty of doing the same as other western powers. The vaccine gap is the main issue causing countless lives to be lost in the pandemic. Developing countries were not given the first iterations of the vaccine until long after the United States and Europe had distributed it domestically. Botswana for example was a country which did not and still has not vaccinated a majority of its citizens. The vaccines that lower income countries receive are priced significantly higher than the actual price. Monopolizing a vaccine; a tool to help save lives, is just inhumane. Estimated cost of production for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was significantly less than the amount of money that countries like Colombia had to pay; at least 5 times more expensive. When the world is in crisis, monopolizing and profiting off of countries in need is wrong. Healthcare corporations, the US, and E.U. must be held accountable.
Some might wonder: Why can’t the vaccine just be produced within the countries that need it, without buying from powerful nations? The problem is patents placed on the vaccines. For countries like India, which has enough resources and funds to produce vaccines domestically, patents create an unnecessary barrier in saving lives. India requested for the patent to be temporarily lifted. “India has alleged that developed countries, led by the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, were ‘preventing access to vaccines for poor countries,’ leading to loss of lives.” Patenting vaccines as property is unproductive and it has been shown to slow the distribution of vaccines, further spreading the pandemic. The European Union has been distributing its vaccines to other wealthy nations, but when less developed countries are in need, long delays and expenses appear. Israel, the UK, US, and EU are to blame for this monopolilization. Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the WHO, has been vocal on this issue. All the way back in January, Adhanom told the WHO executive board: “the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” Many months later, what he said has unsurprisingly come true.
Now, back to the present. How does this relate to Omicron? It is no surprise that the Omicron variant’s severity is tied back to the largely unvaccinated population in these southern african countries. When a virus is left alone, it has time to mutate. The world must hold the U.S. and E.U. accountable, because as the Omicron variant gets worse, both powers are not interested in helping southern african countries. Nations like South Africa have populations that are hesitant and may even refuse vaccine deliveries. This may be related to the initial slow rollout of vaccines, as well as being given worse vaccines like the astra zeneca. The reason these populations were undervaccinated was because the U.S. and E.U. were purposely slowing vaccine distribution. To make matters worse, there have recently been many travel bans placed on countries like Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, and South Africa, (just to name a few). Five days ago, the President of Botswana himself said the “Travel bans, if I can be very direct, are very paternalizing, and very divisive. And they undermine our belief systems in multilateralism.” Masisi isn’t alone; Malawi’s president has called these travel bans ‘afrophobic’, and South Africa’s president has condemned the bans as well. The U.S. and E.U. should listen to these leaders and respond how they should have responded to mutating Covid strains in the first place: by helping nations in need without dreams of profit nor imperialism. We live in a global society, and as long as the pandemic continues, we must help everyone.