The rich world placed a big bet on vaccines. But the flaw in that gamble became clear as a new variant spreads. The vaccine was never enough to stop the pandemic, Edie Lush points out in this episode, even if the world had enough vaccine. Most of the world did not have enough vaccine and the new variant, Omicron, mutated and began to spread. Wealthy countries, which had kept most of the vaccine for themselves, are now trying to block this variant by blocking travel from countries who first identified it, Botswana, South Africa and neighboring countries in southern Africa. “People are truly livid,” Professor Magen Mhaka Mutepfa of the University of Botswana reports. Africans feel they are being ostracized by the rich world for doing the right thing: reporting the new variant the moment they identified it. Jane Badham, a health consultant, offers a heart rending report of sorrow from Johannesburg.
“African governments and people will need all the solidarity of everybody,” says Dr. David Nabarro, special envoy of the World Health Organization, “The last thing we want is people saying, ‘oh, we’ll cancel flights.’ What’s it do? What does it do?… I am so fixated on the importance of solidarity and so fixated on the unfairness of single-handed, high-handed responses. And particularly high handed responses from rich countries who’ve been hoovering up the vaccine and who’ve been making it difficult for poor countries to cope. No, we actually need to be able to count on each other in dealing with this pandemic. It’s got months, and years to run. So let’s just be civil to each other.”
Travel lockdowns may buy some time. But the crucial defenses are, as they have been from the beginning, masks, distancing, testing and isolating of those potentially infected. Peter Hebard, a systems engineer, offers advice on selecting effective masks. You can also learn more from the WHO here: https://www.who.int/
Edie Lush says empathy is crucial to an effective and appropriate global response. “We have to hold the consequences of what we do in mind,” she said, urging the developed world to increase vaccine and medical supplies to southern Africa as well as economic aid to ease the impact of travel bans.
David Nabarro is the Co-Director of the Imperial College Institute of Global Health Innovation at the Imperial College London and supports systems leadership for sustainable development through his Switzerland based social enterprise 4SD. From March 2020, David is appointed Special Envoy of WHO Director General on COVID-19. He secured his medical qualification in 1974 and has worked in over 50 countries – in communities and hospitals, governments, civil society, universities, and in United Nations (UN) programs. David worked for the British government in the 1990s as head of Health and Population and director for Human Development in the UK Department for International Development. From 1999 to 2017 he held leadership roles in the UN system on disease outbreaks and health issues, food insecurity and nutrition, climate change and sustainable development. In October 2018, David received the World Food Prize together with Lawrence Haddad for their leadership in raising the profile and building coalitions for action for better nutrition across the Sustainable Development Goals.
[00:00:00] Jane Badham: it’s been a very tough few days in South Africa and I’m bound to get emotional. It’s been devastating on so many levels. People are livid. We don’t even really know how many people have tested. Everything is just been cut just like that without any warning.
[00:00:22] David N: And that’s what is so awful about this business. You do your public health, right? You tell people what you suspect, you’re honest and you’re open. And then a few days later, bam, you get cut off.
[00:00:44] Claudia Romo Edelman: Hello and welcome to the global GoalsCast.
[00:00:48] Edie Lush: The podcast that shows how we can change. the world In this episode, the COVID gamble.
[00:00:55] Claudia Romo Edelman: High income countries put a big bet on vaccines.
[00:00:58] Edie Lush: But vaccines are not enough. They never have been enough, even if we had enough vaccine. And now the challenge is clear. A new variant has spooked the world.
[00:01:09] Claudia Romo Edelman: South Africa did the right thing and warned everybody right away of the new variant.
[00:01:14] Edie Lush: And as a reward, the world has pulled up it’s gang place. Cutting off Southern Africa from travel and commerce.
We’ll talk about all of that and much more right after this.
[00:01:28] Michelle: This episode of Global GoalsCast is brought to you by our listeners. That’s right, listeners like you who care about the future. Please spread the word, tell your friends about global GoalsCast hit the like and subscribe and give us five stars. Thanks also to CBS news, digital and universal production music.
[00:01:54] Edie Lush: Welcome back. I’m Edie Lush.
[00:02:00] Claudia Romo Edelman: And I am Claudia Romo Edelman. Edie how do we get the world to listen? We keep saying the pandemic is not over. I understand how much we want it to be over. How many of us need it to be over so that we can work and hug our families and have thanksgiving dinners openly and freely.
[00:02:20] Edie Lush: Our needs and wants don’t really mean anything to the Coronavirus. It continues to spread and mutate.
[00:02:28] Claudia Romo Edelman: It is very scary, isn’t it? And this is just what my old boss, David Nabarro, the special Envoy for the World Health Organization warned us would happen.
[00:02:39] Edie Lush: The new variant was first identified by researchers at an HIV lab in Botswana. Then South African public health officials realized it was spreading quickly and sounded the alarm, the WHO quickly branded it a variant of concern, their highest level of alert. The last variant they labeled this way was the Delta variant.
[00:03:01] Claudia Romo Edelman: Which has now spread all around the world. Here at the Global GoalsCast we believe no little understanding our best defense against panic and intolerance. So when news of this new variant broke, we hustled to get to the regular briefing by Dr. Nabarro so that we can understand what’s happening and share the facts with you.
[00:03:21] David N: Hello to those of you. I can see with your videos on. To Edie lovely to see you. And, hello to Mike. Hello to Jane. Obviously not an easy time to be in South Africa. You’re wondering about flights and everything want to give you the floor pretty early on in the discussion session, if you’re on.
We do need to focus on just what is happening with regard to variant B11529.
[00:03:56] Edie Lush: B11529 has now been given a Greek letter. Omicron Jane is Jane badham a public health consultant in Johannesburg.
[00:04:13] Jane Badham: It’s been a very tough few days in South Africa and I’m bound to get emotional. It’s been devastating on so many levels. The first one is economically Both potential further lockdowns and lost income from international visitors that won’t be coming in an already very fragile economy that is collapsing around us, is is devastating.
It’s devastating on a scientific level because we should be celebrating, as you said, how advanced to SAR and identifying and characterizing the variants. But instead here at home they’re being criticized for bringing the variant to attention and putting the country in risk of collapse.
So we should be really celebrating our scientists, but instead they all being really criticized.
On a personal level for so many who faced the possibility of lockdown. Again, when they’ve just been getting back to work, where we’re just beginning to see some kind of return.
People are tired of lockdown, as we all know. So that whole potential of people just not wanting to listen and hear about lockdown is also devastating There are so many people who are going to travel or have family come to see them after these years of not being able to see them from the UK, from Zimbabwe, as you mentioned from around, all of that has been kind of just wiped out in the last two days.
And perhaps why I’m crying is because of my own personal level, I was due to be traveling right now to Rome to facilitate a big world food program meeting next week. And I’m not able to travel anymore, partly because I hear that I would have to be quarantined. And then secondly I got the devastating news today.
My 91 year old aunt has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the retirement village where she lives. I can only pray that the double Pfizer dose will protect her and see her through this time. Because as much as she’s had a good life at 91 years you never want someone to die of the horrible way that COVID-19 takes you.
So David and all of you, thanks for the love. You’re showing up. Sorry, I’m crying, but it’s just been a devastating last 48 hours. Thanks, David.
[00:06:56] David N: Jane, we’ve known each other many years. We’ve been professional colleagues and friends for many years. It goes on and we’re all together with you. This whole group, the hearts are coming out on the, on the screens. They mean something.
[00:07:16] Edie Lush: I mean, it was heartrending to listen to.
Jane Describe what she was going through in South Africa, even as the UK was throwing down the portcullis in terms of travel.
[00:07:30] Claudia Romo Edelman: We all feel for Jane and for the people in South Africa, this has become very complicated as countries look out for themselves.
[00:07:38] Edie Lush: Exactly. And I can understand that in the UK, too. And I think we have to hold the consequences of what we do in mind as well. And Jane’s tears really reminded me of that.
[00:07:50] David N: I’ve been talking a lot to the people who’ve been trying to do the work on this in who they make the following points. Number one we know about B11529 because of absolutely brilliant work by south African immunologists and biologists They have done the gene sequencing. They have found out that actually you can pick up this particular variant because it behaves slightly unusually on PCR testing. So they’ve given us the information. They’ve given it really early. They didn’t hide it at all. They’ve got about a hundred looks like isolate people who they think they’ve got it.
And do you know the first thing they said to everybody was please don’t punish South Africa because we’d been so, so open about this, please don’t and you know, no sooner had the information got out two days ago, then people start talking about stopping all flights. South African people who were planning to travel back to Zimbabwe or to Namibia or Botswana for the festive season or perhaps further widely are going to find it difficult to move around.
And that’s what is so awful about this business. You do your public health, right? You tell people what you suspect, you’re honest and you’re open. And then a few days later, bam, you get cut off. And you know, the thing I’ve learned about the south African economy is it is really fragile. I was talking at an event in Pretoria recently where a number of vice chancellors from different universities coming together.
The one message they had for me was we can’t do further movement restrictions in South Africa because of this virus. We just can’t. We haven’t got any money left in the bank and the treasury to provide furloughs. And of course we can’t stop poor people from being able to earn money, to buy food, to stop themselves from being hungry.
If we don’t have enough resources to get them benefits, but there ain’t enough money in the bank. So South Africa has not got the luxury of being able to go back into lockdown for any length of time or to go back into even gentler restrictions like curfews. It’s going to have to be dealt with through good quality, public health, really good relations between government and people.
It will be difficult, especially if this variant is misbehaving. The South African government and people will need all the solidarity of everybody. Last thing we want is people saying, oh, we’ll cancel flights. What’s it do, what does it do? So this is where I’m at at the moment, everybody, I am so fixated on the importance of solidarity and so fixated on the unfairness of single-handed high-handed responses and particularly high handed responses from rich countries.
Who’ve been hoovering up the vaccine and who’ve been making it difficult for poor countries to cope. You know we actually need to be able to count on each other in dealing with this pandemic it’s got months and years to run. So let’s just, let’s just be civil to each other.
[00:11:50] Edie Lush: In Southern Africa, there is a rage against the rich world. Megan Mutepfa is a professor at the university of Botswana and an expert on the impact of COVID-19. She was calling in from Gaborone where the new variant was first identified.
[00:12:12] Megan: People are livid. We don’t even really know how many people have tested. Everything is just been cut just like that without any warning.
[00:12:21] David N: it’s the not knowing that must make it so difficult for you, all not being able to plan, not being able to organize. And then the slight fear that you don’t know what’s happening. I picked it up in your voice. I know you’re not crying, but I, I know you well enough to know that you’re a bit scared. Thank you for sharing with us, Megan, anything that we can do to help tell us what we need to say to the rest of the world.
[00:12:52] Megan: I think you actually need to tell them that the way they are reacting will make people not to disclose new variants or cases of COVID because they are scared they will be cut out or cut off. So I think they shouldn’t punish people for being honest, or for being able to do their job.
[00:13:17] David N: Megan, thank you for your bravery and thank you for being a real-world citizen, connecting with us in this way.
[00:13:25] Claudia Romo Edelman: The new variant has really highlighted the flow in how the rich world has been managing this pandemic.
[00:13:31] David N: I want to stress that within who the feeling is that vaccination alone is not going to be an effective way of getting out of this pandemic. And so, although there are many countries that are saying to everybody, get yourself boosted, and there are some countries that are trying to vaccinate.
Now children 12 to 5 Our position is that you have to combine vaccination with efforts to reduce transmission. Otherwise the gamble is really too much. What is the gamble? The gamble. is That the vaccines alone will not do enough because a, they do not actually stop the virus being transmitted. So you still get virus, transmission even when you’ve been vaccinated.
So the virus is still going to be circulated. And so you cannot expect to stop circulation by using vaccination. And the second reason why we believe that reliance on vaccination alone is a gamble is that this virus is mutating and mutations lead to the arrival of variants that could be capable of dodging the vaccine.
[00:15:02] Edie Lush: We don’t know yet whether Omicron can avade the vaccines, but Dr. Nabarro told us what we do know.
[00:15:11] David N: Who is today hosting a meeting of its technical advisory group on virus evolution because of a worry that this variant as well as possibly being able to move more easily between people also might be capable of causing more unpleasant disease.
And because of the mutations that exist on the spike protein of the virus, it may be. able To break through the defenses, the current vaccines offer. And that’s where the gamble comes. You see if you’re relying on vaccination to keep people safe, to keep your health workers safe to keep your health systems working.
And you’ve got a virus that is capable of bypassing the vaccine for some, it will feel like going back to the beginning. And that’s the worry.
I’ve been pushing like anything to try to stop rich countries from just hoovering up all vaccines, the most stores for boosters, I can quite understand.
You want boosters. You’re worried of a health system overload, but you know what I would have done, I would have simply kept people wearing masks, including on public transport, I’d have kept people trying to have enough distance that they don’t inhale each other’s exhalations I would have tried to get more emphasis on hygiene.
I would have really gone for ventilation in closed spaces. I would have focused on well-fitting masks, not rubbish masks, sit below your nose, but getting that mask properly, fitting I’d be listening to my friend, Peter Hebard who says, perhaps you need to get a surgical mask under a cloth mask, but why not do that?
Why not do it? We know that masks reduce the risk by at least 50%, if they’re worn In a situation where there’s a high level of transmission, why not do it? Why simply just say we won’t bother with the mask Won’t bother with physical distancing. We’ll go for freedom. We won’t worry if it leads to health workers getting overloaded because health systems are messed up.
I just think it’s wrong. I think it’s really wrong. All of Europe should be having all leaders, whether they are from the left or the right, making it clear to all people that the right thing to do is to be wearing a face mask properly fitting at all times, maintaining physical distancing so that you don’t breathe in exhale, the air of others, ventilating crowded spaces, and then practicing good hygiene.
And yes, that may mean some venues have to get shut So. be it But that at least will mean that the economy will be able to keep going for the majority.
[00:18:26] Claudia Romo Edelman: One major lesson of this pandemic is that simple measures executed properly can make a big difference. Dr. Nabarro turned to Peter Hebard, an engineer.
[00:18:39] David N: Peter is a passionate evangelistic engineering ambassador. And what he’s done is he’s joined forces with us to say, Engineers have something to offer as well as public health people. And he has shown very clearly that actually the way you wear the mask and the type of mask, it might be at least as important as the vaccine you’re vaccinated with.
[00:19:11] Peter Hebard: David said a very important thing to me when we first met on online that you have to get a significant dosage to get infected. So everything you do to reduce that will make a difference. I talk about masks But the most important thing is not just a mask. It’s got to be the best one. And there is a huge disparity. We talk about percentage effectiveness of vaccines, but you really need to look at the effectiveness of these masks because this one is, is 600 times better than the new standard for face covering.
So please do not rely on face coverings because they give you false confidence. Then think about the fact that this is doing the same job as a vaccine in terms of transmission, if reduces your infectiousness and it reduces the risk of getting infected and it reduces the amount of viral load you’re putting out there.
[00:20:14] Edie Lush: So to find out the best mask to use, have a look at our show notes. We’ll put a link there.
[00:20:19] Claudia Romo Edelman: One of the things I love about Dr. David Nabarro is that he can be both passionate and very clear minded all at once.
[00:20:32] Edie Lush: how was it working with him?
[00:20:34] Claudia Romo Edelman: Well, you know, it was tough tough, tough. The, the best school in the world. He was very strict and very demanding, but at the same time, very clear about where we needed to go.
That period of time that I was working with David was probably the time in my life that I worked the most. I was so passionate myself about getting the job done and I owe a lot of the things that I’ve learned professionally to David, a very, very important masterminder in the world.
[00:21:04] Edie Lush: Right? So we need clarity and we need to spread facts not the virus right now. So what do we know? we know that there is a new variant. We know that it’s spreading quickly, but we don’t know yet. If it will evade the vaccine.
[00:21:19] Claudia Romo Edelman: Exactly. And I think that that’s one of the most important pieces that we have to offer to you. The clarity of someone that really. knows That is saying, take a deep breath. Let’s actually just understand what we know and what we don’t know, and let’s not start panicking and predicting. And most importantly, do not spread fake news about like New York is in a state of alert or whether we have to take down everything that we shouldn’t actually ever talk to anybody that is from South Africa.
[00:21:48] Edie Lush: Yeah, I think where I’ve come to is. That, when you think about responding with empathy, you come to a different place. So I can understand why the UK has stopped flights coming into the UK from Southern Africa, because it does have the hammer effect of giving us the world time to figure out what this new variant is, how we need to deal with it.
But When we slam that portcullis down so quickly without thought of what it means to those on the outside of it, outside of the castle, it feels careless at least. And it could be damaging. So instead, I wonder if we think about responding with empathy, what does that look like? And one of the things I thought was okay, well, it could be, if we find out that this new variant does evade the vaccine. Maybe we agree that first doses of a retooled vaccine go to Southern Africa through KOVAX Maybe it does mean that we agree additional money going towards a public health information campaign in these countries to increase vaccine take-up. Those are just two things I came up with and I’m sure there’s lots of other smarter things, but I wonder if as David Nabarro as everyone on that call encourages us to do respond thinking about the rest of the world, instead of just the people in your, within your borders, you kind of come to a different place.
So with that, I want you to stay safe, Claudia. I am suffering from a cold. as well as The after effects of the flu jab and the booster full disclosure here. And I want to give, thanks. I want to give thanks for you for everybody on the team at Global GoalsCast and also the team at foresty, it is such a great partnership. David, Catherine Tessie, everyone who joined the briefing.
[00:23:43] Claudia Romo Edelman: You’re right. Edie it’s Thanksgiving weekend for those countries that celebrate it And for those countries, that don’t celebrated it it’s great to be grateful and thankful.
And I take the opportunity to be grateful as well for all the work that we have done. Five seasons in global GoalsCast including our gurus Mike Oreskes, Simon, Cartius and and, everyone. You’re right Edie. This is a good opportunity, particularly when we’re scared and in panic it’s it’s really a good opportunity to be grateful for what we have, including our health,
[00:24:14] Edie Lush: and thanks to our audience for listening, stay safe, wear a mask Spread facts not the virus and give us all of the stars. Right?
[00:24:25] Claudia Romo Edelman: Absolutely.
[00:24:26] Edie Lush: Okay. See you soon. Claudia, take care.
And we want to leave you with a touching moment from the online briefing between David and his grandson.
[00:24:41] David N: Let me just see, are there she is my daughter Polly. And we might just see a little one that is gorgeous Otto Hello Otto Thank you for joining Polly Otto has been, with us right through.
it’s always difficult to speak.
Bye bye Pol Bye. See ya.
Bye everybody. Have a lovely rest of the day. Thank you.
[00:25:15] Michelle: Global GoalsCast was hosted by Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman. We are editorial gurued by Mike Oreskes. Editing and sound production by Simon James. Our operations director is Michelle Cooperider. Music in this episode was courtesy of Universal Production Music. One of the world’s leading production music companies, creating and licensing music for film, television, advertising, broadcast, and other media, including podcasts, original music by Neil Hale, Angelica Garcia, Simon James, Katie Crone, and Andrew Phillips.
Thanks also to CBS News Digital.