African Union officials have complained about the lack of vaccines since the U.S., U.K. and EU pre-purchased the bulk of available supplies at the end of 2020.

A petrol attendant stands next to a newspaper headline about the Omicron variant on Saturday in Pretoria, South Africa. | Denis Farrell/AP Photo


11/28/2021 11:01 AM EST

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Global health experts say the emergence of the Omicron variant in southern Africa is a byproduct of unheeded warnings about vaccine inequity they’ve said could fuel public health crises in the developing world and prolong the Covid-19 pandemic.

Africa remains the most under-vaccinated region of the world, with some 7 percent of its 1.3 billion people fully immunized, while North America has vaccinated about 54 percent of its population, according to Our World in Data. While developed nations committed to donate some of their excess doses and the U.S. bought 1 billion Pfizer-BioNTech shots for the rest of the world, only around half a billion doses overall have reached developing nations so far.

“We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world’s population, not just the wealthy parts,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the organization co-leading the COVAX vaccine equity initiative, in an emailed statement.

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