Omicron does not herald the end

The decision of the Bennett-Lapid-Horowitz government to allow unvaccinated students to attend school, even if they have come into contact with a verified Covid patient, has deepened the existing chaos, not only in the education system but among the general public. Bennett’s reasoning is simple: Omicron is ‘almost’ behind us. While it is currently insanely contagious, mathematical models show that within a week it will start to wane, because there will be no one left to infect. On the contrary, because Omicron is known to be a mild disease, the more students catch it and infect each other and their parents, the faster we will reach the peak of the curve, which will then start going down. True, there are currently about 50 patients dying every day! Yet this number can be “accepted,” if we take seriously what Ayelet Shaked, the Interior Minister and Bennett’s partner, said in August 2021.

The Bennett government seems to have given up. The chaos stems from the fact that the immunization strategy has failed, Omicron has defeated the Green Pass, and the recommendation for a fourth jab was made half-heartedly and unconvincingly. This feeling was expressed by American journalist Bari Weiss. In an interview with comedian and TV presenter Bill Maher on January 22, she caused a stir by saying “I’m done with Covid.” She described how she meticulously followed instructions of the various health authorities, and believed the US administration’s claim that ‘You get the vaccine and you get back to normal.’ “We haven’t gotten back to normal. And it’s ridiculous at this point … You will realize you can show your vaccine passport at a restaurant and still be asymptomatic and be carrying Omicron. And you will realize most importantly that this is going to be remembered by the younger generation as a catastrophic moral crime.”

Her remarks provoked much anger in the American medical establishment. How dare she say “I’m done with Covid” when Omicron has not yet finished with us. More than 600,000 American citizens test positive each day for Covid, and more than 2,000 die daily. Yet the administration continues to cling to the claim that this is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” thus expressing its complete detachment from public feelings.  As in Israel, the public in the United States understands that the vaccine does not prevent infection, and the talk of it saving from death does not comfort anyone. People are infected and have no way to avoid it, because in Israel and the Western world, governments understand that closure is unpopular due to the economic damage it brings, and that schools cannot be closed as children and parents are “going crazy” at home. After two years of pandemic, all that remains is to pray that Omicron heralds the end, because we are frustrated and exhausted, and don’t possess the strength to think of the next variant.

It’s unfortunate that there are not enough voices saying what is so obvious to any beginning epidemiologist – to avoid the next variant one has to vaccinate the world, period. The great failure of the Biden administration and of all Western governments, including Israel, is their disregard for the world’s poor and the strategic adoption of “everyone for himself.” This concept is very suitable for Israel, which has volunteered to be a laboratory for testing vaccines. In fact, the vaccine has become a much more political than epidemiological card, proximity to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has become a political asset, and the Clalit Health Fund has become Pfizer’s subcontractor. Then came the South African Omicron, which is a wake-up call signaling that it’s impossible to continue like this. An immediate change must be made.

A large group of congress members and Democratic senators wrote a personal letter to President Biden, urging him to take immediate action to vaccinate the world. “The world is at a critical crossroads in the fight against the pandemic,” they write, demanding that Biden allocate another $17 billion for this purpose. “We cannot afford to waste another moment and risk the appearance of a more dangerous variant …. the time to end the pandemic is now.” These things are clear, it is not about living ‘with’, ‘near’ or ‘within’ Covid, but about life without it. The ‘non-dangerous’ Omicron teaches us that it is impossible to get used to a pandemic. As long as it exists, it changes its face and creates chaos, despair and helplessness. The absurdity is that humanity possesses the tools to end the global pandemic, and the demand of American senators and many in the scientific community is not unfounded at all. Failure is not in science but in politics! Vaccines have proven effective against the disease, but their unequal distribution has completely neutralized their effect.

The data do not lie. According to the World Health Organization, 10 billion vaccine doses were distributed worldwide, but were concentrated in rich countries. The number of vaccine doses given in high-income countries is 14 times higher per capita compared to low-income countries. About 84% of the population in the African Union have not yet received a single dose of vaccine, while 40% of Americans have received the booster. Where have the public health experts gone? For years they learned the fundamentals of the profession, they understand well that the global world is one epidemiological unit, they knew long ago that a “big thing” is on the way, they learned how to prepare for it, and in the moment of truth they failed. They were blown away by the illusions that Pfizer and Moderna sold us – ‘Forget the world, take care of yourself first, pay us good money for every vaccine and you will not be sorry.’ This is how Albert Bourla laughs all the way to the bank, while Omicron laughs at us all.

From the beginning I did not have much hope in Israel’s “government of change.” It has already given up and is preparing to recommend the fifth booster, while from booster to booster their effectiveness declines, and we hold a world record for the number of infected per million people. Salvation will not come from China either. The Chinese Communist Party is first and foremost interested in its survival, and the “zero Covid” policy it pursues violates the most basic civil rights. The closures, surveillance, house incarceration and concealment of information demonstrate the regime’s nature. The Russians are also collapsing under Covid, people do not believe the government and refuse to get vaccinated with Sputnik. Putin’s way of dealing with the pandemic is to mobilize tanks on the Ukrainian border and sell to the people the fantasy of returning to the glory days of the USSR. Germany and Britain do not want to take responsibility for vaccinating the world because they care about the profits of their drug companies. The United States may thus have remained the only hope. And to be precise, this is half of America, not its entirety. This is the sane democratic half facing the Republican half. The latter not only supports Trump and denies Covid, but we are also learning about its support for Putin, and its questioning of why the US should come out in defense of Ukraine.

Biden’s failure to deal with the pandemic is evident in him and his public status, as his standing in the polls is among the lowest relative to previous presidents in their first year. His attempts to pass his big social plans, the budgets to deal with climate change and the struggle for the right to vote for blacks, are deeply stuck due to his party’s internal conflict. The way to get rid of this blockage is to act immediately and vaccinate the world to bring an end to the pandemic.  

If the US administration does not wake up and pursue a policy of “world vaccination,” the result will be terrible. Not only will the Covid pandemic return to strike with all its might, but it will be followed by an equally dangerous pandemic: the return of Trumpism. It is possible that Bennett, Shaked, Lapid and also Bibi will welcome this, and will continue to shout ‘Iran, Iran Iran’ to silence the pains of Covid, but humanity will pay an unbearably heavy price. Wake up, Biden! For the sake of your citizens and all of us.

About Yacov Ben Efrat