Booster programmes likely to prolong pandemic not end it, warns WHO

Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation has warned that “no country can boost its way out” of the Covid-19 pandemic, as he warned that inequity in access to vaccines while some countries accelerate their booster programmes is prolonging the crisis.

The rush for wealthy countries to push forward with additional jabs, such as Israel going ahead with their fourth round of doses this week, is making it harder for other nations to acquire any jabs at all, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday 22 December.

He also warned it had been a mistaken assumption that countries thought boosters alone could guarantee a safe and healthy festive season for their populations. “No country can boost its way out of the pandemic and boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations, without the need for other precautions,” Dr Tedros told a press conference.

The WHO head added that some nations are in the middle of blanket booster roll-outs, while “distortions in global supply” means that only half of WHO’s member states are on target to vaccinate 40% of their populations by the end of the year, as reported by ITV news.

He said: “Blanket booster programmes are likely to prolong the (Covid-19) pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate.

“It’s important to remember that the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not un-boosted people. And we must be very clear that the vaccines we have remain effective against both the Delta and Omicron variants.”

Dr Tedros added that the “global priority” must be to support all countries “to achieve our targets of vaccinating 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year.”

The UK announced that more than 30 million people had received their booster programmes already, with around 58% of adults in the UK having their booster or third dose of Covid-19 vaccine. Despite this success, many scientific advisers have been calling for stricter measures to curb the rise in infections, although Boris Johnson has ruled out any further restrictions before Christmas.

Other experts resist the need for lockdowns, however. Dr Margaret Harris, a public health doctor for the WHO, said they should be considered a “last resort” as a pandemic control measure. “Lockdowns do work but the price you pay is very high – economically, socially, and the price individuals pay in mental health,” she told ITV News. “It causes a lot of other consequences that are very difficult to deal with.”

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Written by

Claire Gordon