WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously called for a “moratorium” on Covid booster jabs through the end of September – but the UK, US and others are pushing ahead with plans to offer them to vulnerable citizens.
UK health secretary Sajid Javid said the government is confident that a Covid booster programme will get the green light from its top scientific advisers in the “next few days”.
Mr Javid said on Wednesday that the UK’s vaccine advisory body would spell out the terms of the booster programme later this week, adding that top-up jabs could start being offered this month.
But the WHO’s director-general said the UK and other wealthy countries should be giving more vaccines to the poorest nations before offering their own citizens a booster shot.
“I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers,” Dr Tedros told a news conference.
Rich countries have also offered to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to other countries, but under 15 per cent of those doses have “materialised,” Dr Tedros said. “We don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines,” the WHO chief said.
Dr Tedros said he received a message of “clear support” from health ministers at a meeting of G20 this month for a commitment to help hit a WHO target that all countries vaccinate at least 40 per cent of their people by year’s end.
“There has been little change in the global situation since then,” said the director-general. “So today, I’m calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of its population.”
The WHO chief also said Wednesday he was “appalled” at comments by a leading association of pharmaceutical manufacturers, who claimed vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both booster shots and vaccinations in countries in dire need of jabs.
Several wealthy nations countries – including Britain, the US, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain – have begun or are considering plans to offer third shots of two-dose vaccines to their vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.
“I’m confident we could start the booster programme this month,” said Mr Javid on the UK government’s plans on Wednesday – adding that the NHS was effectively “ready to go” in launching a booster programme.
It comes as the head of AstraZeneca said booster vaccines may not be necessary for everyone in Britain and rolling out third doses too quickly would be an “unnecessary burden” on the NHS this autumn.
Chief executive Pascal Soriot called for patience from Boris Johnson’s government, stressing the UK was “a few weeks away” from having a definitive answer on the effectiveness of two doses in providing “continued, protective immunity”.
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the interim results of the Cov-Boost study, which has been looking at the impact of a third dose of various Covid vaccines.
Although no formal parameters have yet been set, most scientists expect the JCVI to recommend a booster programme focusing first on those most vulnerable to Covid, largely those aged over 50 and others who are vulnerable because of other underlying health conditions.
The UK’s chief medical officers are currently reviewing the benefits of vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds after the JCVI declined to recommend a rollout on health grounds alone. A child’s decision to be vaccinated “will prevail” even if parents “don’t give their consent,” Mr Javid said on Wednesday.