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Experts urge more pandemic cooperation

More than two years into the pandemic, scientists say its global impacts will not be finished with us anytime soon, particularly in developing nations.

International Science Council President Peter Gluckman, left, at the UN Library in Geneva
International Science Council President Peter Gluckman, left, at the UN Library in Geneva (AN/J. Heilprin)

GENEVA (AN) — More than two years into the pandemic, scientists say its global impacts will not be finished with us anytime soon, particularly in developing nations.

An analysis from an International Science Council-led expert panel on Tuesday finds that in the absence of global cooperation, the "unprecedented and unfinished" pandemic likely will keep worsening inequalities for at least another five years.

The panel's views on the pandemic's implications for national and global health policies is based on the advice of 186 experts who examined three potential scenarios for how the coronavirus evolves, the number of people infected, and vaccine coverage through 2027.

"In the most likely scenario, COVID-19 will have worsened inequalities in health, economics, development, science and technology, and society," ISC said. "COVID-19 will have become an endemic disease worldwide, and low-income states risk health system collapse and growing food insecurity. Mental health concerns will grow even further."

In the first so-called "continuity" scenario, global vaccine coverage among adults rises to 70-80%, up from 60% currently. It forecasts the highest impact on low income countries and vulnerable populations, due to poor access to effective vaccines and the continuation of emerging variants, as the coronavirus becomes endemic with seasonal spikes.

The second scenario, dubbed "collaboration plus," looks at global vaccination rates climbing to greater than 80%, saving many lives and cutting the risk of emerging variants while benefiting mental health, economies and sustainable development. Overall, the spread of the virus becomes much more manageable but doesn't vanish.

A third, worst-case scenario, called "missed recovery," foresees a vaccination rate of less than 70% of the global population, with low income nations and vulnerable populations still suffering from limited access to any shots or antiviral medicines. In this case, the rise of authoritarian populism keeps growing and further erodes trust in governments or vaccines.

More cooperation needed

The experts said they considered the "continuity" scenario to be the most likely. The more pessimistic scenario, "missed recovery," is seen as the second-most plausible outcome. The most optimistic, "collaboration plus," is considered least likely.

ISC President Peter Gluckman, on his first trip outside New Zealand in two years to participate in Swiss foundation GESDA's Science Diplomacy Week in Geneva, said the report is meant to help governments find ways of better helping all their citizens by increasing international cooperation and health care investment.

“We must not take a narrow view of the pandemic or minimize its impacts beyond public health, otherwise inequities will grow, and the broader consequences will be felt in every society in every country,” he said. "To ensure a resilient and more equitable future, we must find ways that embolden effective international collaboration in addressing global threats."

Mami Mizutori, who heads the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said the pandemic "demonstrated the value of international scientific cooperation, even in the face of cascading environmental risks and geopolitical tensions."

She said the world must learn from the pandemic or the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 "will slip out of reach."

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