Covid booster programmes 'likely to prolong the pandemic,' World Health Organization warns

A person gets their booster vaccine in Washington, USA. Credit: AP

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief has warned “no country can boost its way out” of the Covid-19 pandemic, as he warned that inequity in access to vaccines is prolonging the crisis.

The rush for wealthy countries to roll-out additional Covid vaccine doses is making it harder for other nations to get hold of the jab, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

He also warned that it was a mistaken assumption for any nation country to think that boosters alone can guarantee everyone has a safe festive season.

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“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.

Why has the WHO said booster programmes will 'prolong' the pandemic?

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.”

His comments came as new figures showed that more than 30 million extra doses of Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in the UK, with a record 968,665 booster and third doses reported on Tuesday.

Around 58% of all adults in the UK have now had a booster or third dose of Covid-19 vaccine, up from 46% a week ago, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

Despite the success of the booster programme, many scientists have urged the UK government to enforce tougher curbs in England to prevent a surge of infections over the festive period.

However, other experts disagree, arguing that implementing lockdowns should be resisted unless absolutely necessary given the huge social end economic consequences they bring to populations.

Earlier on Wednesday, 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."