International Experts on Race and Health call for greater vaccine access in response to the Omicron variant

Responding to the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Professor leading the NHS Race and Health Observatory’s International Race and Health Experts Group, has warned, “vaccine equity” is a fundamental requirement across the globe.

The international group, part of the Observatory’s global partnerships workstream, has been established to help share common approaches in tackling global ethnic health inequalities.

Professor David Williams, Professor of Public Health, Harvard University, said:

“Vaccine equity is not an academic term for scholars and advocates.”

“It’s a bottom-line requirement for the world. Here’s the truth: when African nations don’t have sufficient vaccine to protect their people, unvaccinated people will be more likely to get COVID and all of us will be vulnerable to new variants. And, those variants, like Omicron, know no borders. Viruses don’t carry passports. So, it’s no surprise that a variant that was first found in South Africa has now been found in more than 20 countries and soon can be everywhere.

“The solution is simple: rich nations have the money and the scientific knowhow to ensure that Africans have access to vaccines. The global North must invest in the global South, even if for their own interests. African people don’t live in some distant land, and they aren’t less important than the rest of us, they are our neighbours, and should be applauded for highlighting this variant at the earliest opportunity.”

Observatory Race Advisor and international group co-chair, Yvonne Coghill, said:

“The emergence of this new variant is a real concern and we urge those that have access to a vaccine to take it and in so doing protect themselves, their families and communities. Others may not be so fortunate, access to the vaccine relies on infrastructure, medical equipment, syringes as well as the human resources required to administer vaccines.

“We’ve already seen the disproportionate impact Covid has had on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. In some parts of the globe, shortages of medical supplies are stalling efforts to vaccinate communities along with the vaccine itself.

“For those still having doubts about being vaccinated please think again and perhaps revisit your decision. Take advice from health and scientific experts. I know how difficult these last few years have been for those of us that have families and friends abroad, however we must remain resilient, support each other and remember, hands, face and space as we learn more about Omicron”

Professor Williams and Yvonne Coghill, CBE, Co-chair the Observatory’s International Group, comprising of scholars and policy analysts representing the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Guatemala. The group will meet over the next three years to propose solutions for tackling ethnic and racial inequalities seen across their respective countries.

The Observatory’s International group members include:


  • Professor David Williams, (Co-Chair) Professor of Public Health, Harvard University (U.S.A)


  • Yvonne Coghill, (Co-chair) Special Advisor, NHS Race and Health Observatory (UK)


  • Andy Burness, Founder and president of Burness, a mission-driven global communications firm supporting non-profits and the people they serve (U.S.A)


  • Ricci Harris, Public Health Physician and Associate Professor, Eru Pōmare Māori Health Research Centre, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington (New Zealand)


  • Professor Stephani Hatch, Professor of Sociology and Epidemiology, leading the Health Inequalities Research Group at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (UK)


  • Raymond Lovett, Program leader for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Research School of Population Health (Australia)


  • Anthony Mbewu, Specialist in internal medicine and cardiology (South Africa)


  • Professor James Nazroo, Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester (UK)


  • Irma Velásquez Nimatuj, Spokeswoman for Indigenous communities in Central America, journalist, activist and Stanford University Visiting Professor (Guatemala)


  • Professor Naomi Priest, Group Leader of Social-Biological Research, Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Australia)


  • Dr Priscilla Reddy, Visiting Scholar Centre for Critical Research in Race and Identity, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)


  • Dr Janet Smylie, Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto (Canada)


  • Dr Laurie Zephyrin, Vice president for Advancing Health Equity at the Commonwealth Fund (U.S.A)


The group is supported by Observatory board member, Professor James Nazroo, University of Manchester, and Observatory Director, Dr Habib Naqvi.