No country can boost its way out of pandemic: WHO chief
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) attends the signing of the memorandum of understanding between WHO and the WHO Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, May 27, 2020. (Reuters)
The World Health Organization chief warned Wednesday that the rush in wealthy countries to roll out additional Covid vaccine doses was deepening the inequity in access to jabs that is prolonging the pandemic.
The UN health agency has long warned that the glaring inequity in access to Covid vaccines, which has left many vulnerable people in poorer nations without a single jab as richer countries roll out broad booster programs.
“Blanket booster programs 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,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
“No country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”
The new variant is spreading at unprecedented speed and has already been detected in 106 countries, the WHO said.
Early data indicating that the heavily-mutated variant is not only more transmissible than previous strains, but could be better at dodging some vaccine protections, although additional doses appear to push protection levels higher.
But Tedros said Wednesday that the existing vaccines continue to provide significant protection against severe disease from omicron.
“It’s important to remember that the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not un-boosted people,” he said.
He also stressed that we all must take all necessary precautions to halt the spread of Covid as we head into the Christmas holiday.
“Boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations,” he said.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization said Wednesday that at least 126 countries around the world have already issued recommendations on boosters or additional vaccine doses, and 120 had started implementing those programs.
“No low-income country has yet introduced a booster vaccination program,” it said in a statement.