Omicron? Your Problem!

The Bennett government has adopted the famous saying “If you can’t beat them, join them,” regarding the Omicron wave sweeping the world and striking Israel with all its might. “We were the first” has become the common currency of Israeli leaders: We were the first to close the skies and the first to vaccinate the population, Netanyahu boasted; we were the first to give the booster shots and the first to confirm a second booster, bragged Bennett. Yet this primacy has eroded in the blink of an eye. The first has become the last, so much so that the green pass, the same pass that was supposed to protect us, has lost all value.

We have become a nation like the nations, and what is good for Britain and the United States is also good for Israel. In other words, we have been left unprotected and helpless. The government, tail between its legs, has thrown up its hands and told us – dear citizens, do what you want. Thus, after two whole years of the nightmare pandemic, we have all become experts, epidemiologists, therapists, psychologists and policymakers. In such a situation, who even needs the government or the Ministry of Health?

“Omicron causes mild illness” is the new slogan, and since it cannot be stopped, we are told that it is not terrible if we become infected. The forecast is that one in four, something like two million citizens, will fall ill. The truth is that we will never know the true number of those infected, because the state has stopped doing mass testing, and those who have not reached the age of sixty will do a home test if they want to, or will not be tested if they do not want to. In any case, since the test is inaccurate, even the negatives (which may be positives) will go around as they please, freely infecting others. Long live individual freedom.

In the meantime, we are told that this wave will be powerful and high, but will break quickly, and within three weeks we will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. This is, of course, until the next variant, currently evolving somewhere in Africa, or somewhere in East Asia or South America. We do not yet know how contagious the next mysterious variant will be and what organ it will affect. The Delta variant impacted the lungs, Omicron the throat, and the next Greek name might affect our heart, liver, or perhaps the pancreas.

Here is the place to emphasize – the failure is not only of Bennett and his government, but of the entire Western world. It is enough to look at what is happening in the United States, the country possessing the greatest scientific potential, which developed the COVID-19 vaccine in record time, to understand the magnitude of this failure. It is in the U.S. that the number of dead and sick from COVID-19 is record-breaking. The huge gap between scientific achievement and the socioeconomic system could not be more pronounced. While its citizens are sick and dead, its schools are closing and 100,000 American children have already lost one of their parents, the stock market is flourishing and drug companies are making billions.

The narrow, nationalistic view of the world, a world that is essentially global, and the thought that any country can alone defeat COVID-19, is unbearable nonsense that claims millions of victims. “None of us is safe until we are all safe,” says US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, yet his words and heart don’t match. Only 5% of those in the poor world are vaccinated, leaving the world vulnerable to the development of additional variants, while the pandemic continues to spread.

Ironically, vaccines have lost some of their effectiveness. Experts who were so enthusiastic about them are forced to acknowledge the fact that with the fourth booster, we have reached the limit of immune capacity. Professor Gili Regev, Head of the Infection Prevention and Control Units at Sheba Hospital, tells YNet: “Our initial results, which of course have not yet been published, show an increase in antibodies which is predictable but not very impressive. A fivefold increase is nice but insufficient – it does not give the same effect as the booster. If it brings us back to where we were four months ago – then every four months we’ll need a vaccine and that’s not the goal.” In other words – Ciao Pfizer, goodbye Moderna! You made your wad of cash and we remained as we were when it all started somewhere in late 2019, at Wuhan’s wet market.

The good news is, meanwhile, somewhere in a children’s hospital in faraway Texas, at the Baylor College of Medicine, two doctors, Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi, have developed a universal vaccine against the corona virus. And why should they develop another vaccine when many effective vaccines already exist? The answer is simple. Existing vaccines are not accessible to the poor world, that is, to most of the world. They are very expensive, require special refrigerated storage, and are protected by patents that prevent manufacturers around the world from producing them en masse and at a price accessible to everyone.

So, in the last week of 2021, India’s regulatory agency gave the go-ahead for a local vaccine manufacturer, Biological E. Limited (BioE), to start distributing the Corbevax vaccine developed in Texas, without a patent or restrictive conditions. Companies in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Botswana in Africa were also permitted to do so. The technology is based on a vaccine against the hepatitis B virus, and no special conditions are required for its production or storage.

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the Baylor did not receive any funding from the U.S. government, its budget is meager, and it operates on the principles of the polio vaccine inventor, Jonas Salk, who refrained from patenting his creation in the early 1950s. Following this, Albert Sabin successfully developed another vaccine against polio. In a joint paper published on the Scientific American website, Hotez and Bottazzi ask themselves the question: “If we had received a fraction of the support that multinational biotech companies received, would the world already be vaccinated?  We might have been able to prevent the appearance of Omicron, Alpha and Delta, which probably developed among unvaccinated people.” This is, of course, a rhetorical question that is in fact a stinging indictment against the medical establishment and Western governments, which so far have refused to waive patent rights in order to vaccinate the world.

Omicron may be a ringing slap-in-the-face that will finally wake up world leaders, teach them a lesson in modesty and humanity, and most importantly, jolt them out of their national blindness. The costs of protecting the economic interests of Big Pharma are dear, not “only” for the impoverished world, but also the wealthy one. When states give up, leaving citizens to their own devices, they endanger the democratic regimes themselves. Politicians lose credibility when caught making false promises about defeating the disease without worldwide vaccination. The scientific establishment also loses credibility when it fails to tell the public the simple truth: there is no national solution – the solution is global. The vaccine is not a solution as long as the whole world is not vaccinated. We must follow in the footsteps of Jonas Salk and waive the patent. Science is the intellectual property of all humankind.

This pandemic will end eventually, whether by human actions and science, or by nature itself. Yet the deep scars on the body of humanity will not heal quickly. Humanity has once again demonstrated how selfishness, indifference to suffering, and greed can lead us to self-extinction. “Don’t Look Up” is the name of the most watched movie on Netflix today, which describes how a meteorite approaching Earth may destroy humanity because leaders are blind and private interests mix science with profits.

Israeli society is also accustomed to entrenching itself within the national paradigm, not looking eastward. It, too, remains indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians living among us and refuses to offer a solution. This is the same blindness we witness today in the face of Omicron: the government throws up its hands, deluding itself that everything will somehow work out. The delusions are now exploding in our faces. The so-called “government of change” turns out to be helpless. It refuses to impose authority of any kind, let alone closure, and allows mass infections. So, in effect, it leaves Omicron to decide for us: it will put us in isolation, it will impose a closure on us, and it will decide when to leave us, without notice.

About Yacov Ben Efrat