Blinken: Omicron underscores 'none of us will be fully safe until everyone is'

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenRussia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia Blinken: Russian attack on Ukraine could be launched with 'very short notice' MORE said Tuesday that the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant demonstrates the need to vaccinate the global population in order to get past the pandemic.

“We know that none of us will be fully safe until everyone is,” Blinken told reporters in Latvia. “And we've been saying that as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating, and if it's mutating, we might wind up with a variant that poses a new threat and that can defeat the existing vaccines or induce greater illness or be more transmissible, all the questions we're looking at right now when it comes to omicron.” 

Blinken pointed to the disparity in vaccination coverage across the globe, with the United States and countries in Europe far outpacing populations in Africa.

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Blinken said the Biden administration has been working “very aggressively to deal with that gap.” Blinken also stressed the need to solve “last mile challenges” that have prevented South Africa from being able to distribute vaccine doses.

The omicron variant was first detected by scientists in South Africa. Its discovery prompted the U.S., U.K., and parts of the European Union to restrict travel from South African countries. Subsequent cases have been detected in Europe and Canada, and officials expect it will eventually be detected in the U.S. despite the travel restrictions. 

Officials say it will take at least two weeks to gain a more detailed picture of omicron, its transmissibility and the degree to which coronavirus vaccines are effective against it. The variant has nevertheless lent new urgency to vaccinating the global population to squash the pandemic, with Blinken being the latest official to highlight the issue.

Less than 10 percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. By comparison, about 60 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE has committed to donating over a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries abroad as part of an effort to vaccinate the global population, with a particular focus on lower income countries that struggle to purchase coronavirus vaccines. Most of the doses are being shared through the World Health Organization-backed initiative, COVAX.

Still, the U.S. government has faced pressure to do more to boost the global supply and some have criticized the Biden administration for offering booster doses to Americans when much of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.