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COVID-19 force majeure over vaccines

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Those who do not know that man is merely coping with nature may not have realised that COVID-19 variants are becoming a force majeure, or abdication of obligations, that makes ineffectual the vaccines, the promise of immunity, formulated against COVID-19, the pandemic that is ravaging the world.

And indeed some realists (and insurance brokers), who may be regarded as fatalists in orientation, have argued that there is no armour against fate. What will be (including COVID-19 variants) will be.

The rapid rate of mutations into several variants shows that COVID-19 has several twists and turns that outpace medical research, vaccine production and modalities of healthcare delivery in all countries of the world.

An unforeseen, unanticipated, superior power is upturning the medical applecart with the various variants of COVID-19, the latest being the dreaded Omicron whose index case was reported on November 11, 2021, in Botswana in the Southern African sub-region of Africa.

But CBS, a major American television network, has reported that the Omicron variant had been detected in Belgium in Europe before the South African government flagged it, got stigmatised as a result, and got slammed with travel bans for alerting the world.

After Canada announced that some passengers who came into Ottawa from Nigeria showed positive signs of Omicron, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the new Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, confirmed positive cases of two Nigerians who recently flew into Nigeria from South Africa.

In an attempt to calm the nerves of Americans in the face of the Omicron variant, President Joe Biden offers the following consolation: While Omicron is “a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic.” Yet America admits that, for now, all information available on Omicron is anecdotal.

World Health Organisation ascribed Greek alphabets, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lamda, and Mu to identify variants of COVID-19, but jumped some alphabets before moving to Omicron.

They skipped “Nu” and “Xi,” because the former rhymed with the American pronunciation of the word, “New,” and the latter is spelt the same way as the surname of Chinese President, Xi Jinping, whose ego may be bruised as a result. And that may be bad for international relations between China and the West.

Maybe you remember that Indian automobile manufacturer, Tata, had to push forward the launch date, and adopted the brand name, Zica, of its new car, because the original name, Zika, coincided with that of a disease announced by WHO.

By this logic, if Delta State in Nigeria were a global brand in the league of London and New York, two of the world’s most famous cities, maybe the COVID-19 Delta variant would have been given another name.

The sensitivity shown by those who assign the names of COVID-19 variants certainly shoots down the theory of playwright William Shakespeare whose character, Juliet, asks, in the eponymous play, Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, a COVID-19 variant named “Xi’’ may lead to trade wars or even a Third World War!

COVID-19 is a severe and acute respiratory disease caused by SARS-COV-2 virus. WHO defines it as “a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses, ranging from the common cold to severe diseases, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

“Common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory symptoms, kidney failure and even death.”

Vaccines, formulated to act as immunity against COVID-19 are RNA type, manufactured by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna. They are administered via intramuscular injection, like Johnson & Johnson vaccines. There is also the Russian non-replicating vaccine, known as Sputnik. Finally, there is the Oxford/AstraZeneca brand.

Omicron has more than 30 mutations and has a rate of infection that is more than double that of the Delta variant. In medical terms, mutation is a change or discontinuous variation or sudden inheritable divergence from an ancestral or original type.

Omicron is said to be proving less fatal than the Delta variant as some reports indicate. No one has been reported to have died of this variant to date. (But the jury is still out on the efficacy of Omicron).

According to Dr Jonathan Obaje, a Nigerian medical researcher based in Singapore, this may prove to be a blessing in disguise, especially because they think Omicron, which propagates faster, may outpace or even replace the deadlier Delta variant.

Interestingly, Dr Obaje reports that preliminary clinical data is showing that Africans have innate immunity to the Omicron variant. Again, the jury is still out on this claim. No one, not even WHO, is sure of anything.

However, when you consider that less than 3,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Nigeria, which has about 200 million citizens, you could say that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who more or less expressed fear that Africans would not survive at the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, was an alarmist crying wolf!

But suppose Dr Obaje’s report proves to be a mere phantom that is supported by more data? The assurances of safety from the vaccines and the false claim of the “invincibility” of Africans may prove to be dangerous, even disastrous, speculation.

Yet a cheeky report indicates that while COVID-19 is surging dangerously in countries whose vaccination rates are higher, the rate of infection in less vaccinated countries is dropping like lead.

This probably confirms the opinion of experts that Omicron has the capacity to overcome the vaccines. It could also strengthen the argument of anti-vaxxers who conscientiously object to taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

So the metropolitan countries, where a significant number of citizens have had the two mandatory jabs of the COVID-19 vaccines, and are considering taking a third booster shot, may have no significant advantage over a country like Nigeria, where less than one million of its 200 million citizens have taken the first jab.

Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, advises even a fourth booster shot, even as he admits that the vaccines may be non-variant-specific and may not even overcome some variants.

He is of the commonsense opinion that when a significant number of Americans, or even citizens of the world, are vaccinated, America and the rest of the world would enjoy herd immunity.

Dr Fauci, who had the unpleasant, embarrassing job of announcing America’s index case (of a patient who arrived in America’s California State from South Africa), still recommends the non-pharmaceutical COVID-19 preventive measures, social distancing, wearing nose masks, washing your hands with water and, or, hand sanitisers.

Those North American and Western European countries that are pointing sanctimonious hands at other countries, upon whom they place travel bans, have even higher incidences of Omicron variant (and other COVID-19 infections and death).

What the world community is certain about is that no one is certain about the Omicron variant of COVID-19. As new variants pop up, vaccine guarantees fail, to fuel the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 is contrived and with no end-game.

Some think Omicron is yet another pawn in the conspiracy of Big Pharma, the medical science community and the denizens of the metropolitan powers against the people of the world.

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