Vaccines alone won’t end the Covid pandemic, says New Zealand former prime minister

Health, Fitness & Food

People walking past a wall mural depicting medical staff hitting the coronavirus with vaccine needle at Santacruz on March 29, 2021 in Mumbai, India.
Pratik Chorge | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

Covid-19 still spreading globally and a “vaccine-only” strategy won’t bring the pandemic to an end, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Thursday.

The World Health Organization sounded the same warning last year, when the world was just months into the Covid pandemic.

Globally, the number of daily reported Covid cases and deaths have seen a renewed uptick over the past month, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed. It comes even as more people are receiving vaccinations and, in some countries, booster shots.

“What I would say to the countries … [that] have been successful with vaccine rollouts is: that won’t do it alone,” Clark said at the virtual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit.

“You must be able to calibrate, bring back in or maintain public health measures relevant to the epidemiological state of the pandemic and your country at the time,” she added.

In a separate session at the APEC CEO Summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said one of the biggest challenges she’s faced in managing the Covid outbreak was to proactively respond to spikes in cases.

Unfortunately, Germany is in the midst of the fourth wave now. We are registering a high increase in numbers. People may believe that it is a thing of the past, but we have to realize it’s not over.
Angela Merkel
German Chancellor

“So once you see cases rising dramatically, you have to intervene immediately,” said Merkel, who’s preparing to leave office after 16 years in Germany’s top job.

She warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet over as Germany is once again experiencing a resurgence in cases.

“Unfortunately, Germany is in the midst of the fourth wave now. We are registering a high increase in numbers. People may believe that it is a thing of the past, but we have to realize it’s not over,” Merkel said Friday.

Keeping delta out

In addition to Germany, daily reported cases have also surged in Singapore even as the vaccine rollout accelerated.

The Southeast Asian city-state has one of the highest vaccination rates globally, with around 85% of its population fully vaccinated, according to health ministry data. But the country has had to adjust social-distancing measures multiple times as the highly infectious delta variant spreads.

Meanwhile, infections and deaths rose in the U.K. after the government removed Covid restrictions upon reaching a “reasonable” vaccination rate, noted Clark. Close to 80% of people aged 12 and over in the U.K. have received two doses of vaccine, official data showed.

“It’s very hard to keep delta out. Everyone’s wrestling with it,” Clark said.

‘Very inequitable’ vaccine rollout

The “very inequitable” rollout of Covid vaccines is partly to blame for prolonging the pandemic, said Clark.

“We’re not really going to be safe in New Zealand, or Canada, or China, or wherever, unless everyone in the world had the opportunity to have access to vaccines and therapeutics and so on,” she said.

The WHO and other health experts, including famed epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, have made similar comments previously.

Clark co-chaired an independent panel established by the WHO to review the world’s pandemic preparedness and response.

In its final report published in May, the panel recommended that high-income countries redistribute at least one billion doses of Covid vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries by Sept. 1, and another one billion doses by mid-2022. 

Analytics firm Airfinity said in an Oct. 20 report that only 350 million doses have been delivered.

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