A health official prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination center in Hartlepool, Britain, Jan. 31, 2021. (Reuters Photo)

Wake-up call for global COVID-19 vaccination process

It has been more than a year since we started talking about the COVID-19 crisis. For many around the world, 2020 was a loss. Some people lost their loved ones. Others had to fight off the deadly disease themselves.

It has been more than a year since we started talking about the COVID-19 crisis. For many around the world, 2020 was a loss. Some people lost their loved ones. Others had to fight off the deadly disease themselves.

Students lost a year of traditional education. Weddings were either downsized or delayed. Graduation ceremonies were conducted through Zoom. Meetings and conventions were canceled. The most important holidays that used to bring families and loved ones together were not fully celebrated. Economies around the world shut down and a new normal was formed. Masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing and coronavirus tests became an everyday topic.

After the virus spread to different countries, we started to see some politicians providing optimistic scenarios about it.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump announced that it would miraculously go away by itself. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected that herd immunity would be the best solution to the problem so it would not be necessary to take steps for everyday restrictions. Some others thought that just like the flu, the outbreak would disappear in the summer months.

Most scientists, however, have never been this optimistic.

A pandemic shift

The trajectory of the Spanish Flu of 1917 and 1918 demonstrated a potential and more deadly second wave emerging in the fall season of the pandemic.

As it was feared, the pandemic reemerged with a second wave in the fall season. More significantly, every few months the epicenter of the pandemic continued to shift, making it extremely difficult to contain the outbreak.

In one year, more than 100 million people were infected and more than 2 million lost their lives. In addition, there has been a lot of debate about how COVID-19 impacts individuals and the potential effects quarantines have on the mental and physical health of people.

In November 2020, when several pharmaceutical companies announced the results of their vaccine research, there was widespread optimism around the world. The most well-known experts in this field announced that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

It was a rather striking development to see multiple vaccines be produced in a rather short period of time. Now almost three months after this initial announcement, there are still too many questions emerging in regards to the vaccines and their impact on the ongoing pandemic.

On the one hand, in the last three months, we have seen at least three more serious mutations of the virus. Initially, the U.K. announced its new variant of the virus spreads more quickly. Following that, the South African and Brazilian mutations of the virus made the issue more complicated.

Countries started to take additional precautions in order to stop the spread of these variants in their countries.

Secondly, there is a significant problem even in the most developed countries in regards to the vaccination process. The vaccination process lagged behind the expected timetable in some of the critical countries.

For instance, the U.S. was planning to vaccinate 20 million citizens by Dec. 31 but achieved that number only at the end of January.

The inoculation crisis

Finally, with the race toward vaccination becoming more complicated, we have seen that there is an unfair distribution of vaccines around the world. The more wealthy countries are purchasing most of the newly produced shots making it difficult for the less wealthy nations to have access to these vaccines.

The optimism is not over but it is much more cautious. The only way to stop the emergence of more mutations is to increase the speed of vaccine production and its implementation.

However, there is a vaccine shortage around the world. More significantly, the difficulty of less developed countries having access to the vaccine will make this issue more complicated.

These three challenges should be yet another wake-up call for the international community to launch a process of cooperation in order to defeat COVID-19. There is an urgent need for coordination and cooperation among states to stop another wave of the virus.

[Daily Sabah, February 2, 2021]

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