GENEVA (THE GUARDIAN) — The world will have enough doses of Covid vaccines early next year to inoculate all of the global adult population – if western countries do not hoard those vaccines to use in blanket booster programmes, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday there would be sufficient vaccine supplies in global circulation in the first quarter of 2022.
“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,” Tedros said, adding: “No country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”
His remarks follow predictions by officials with the WHO’s Africa region earlier this month that African countries should receive almost a billion doses within the same timeframe.
Tedros’s comments came as the WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said the organisation was considering reclassifying earlier variants of Covid-19 – including the Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants – as they appeared to be no longer in circulation.
However, Kerkhove cautioned against recent reports – including from South Africa – that suggested the Omicron variant spreading around the world may be less severe than previous variants, saying there was still insufficient data to make a judgment.
“We have not seen this variant circulate for long enough in populations around the world, certainly in vulnerable populations,” Kerkhove said.
She said the data on Omicron, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November, was still “messy” as countries reported its arrival and spread.
The projections on global vaccine supply come as new vaccines and treatments have been authorised for use against Covid and the focus has moved to ensuring the world’s poorer countries are supported with materials and vaccine commodities such as syringes, which are in short supply, to accelerate rollouts.
With Omicron spreading at unprecedented speed and already detected in 106 countries, Tedros said on Wednesday the existing vaccines continued to provide significant protection against severe disease.
“It’s important to remember that the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not unboosted people,” he said.
He also stressed people should take necessary precautions to halt the spread of Covid heading into the Christmas period. “Boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations,” he said.
Tedros’s comments on increasing global vaccination follows the publication earlier on Wednesday of a report by the WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on immunisation that said at least 126 countries around the world had already issued recommendations on boosters or additional vaccine doses, and 120 had started implementing those programmes.
“No low-income country has yet introduced a booster vaccination programme,” it said in a statement.
“In view of the continued supply uncertainties in global vaccine access and equity, individual country vaccine booster dose policy decisions need to balance the public health benefits to their population with support for global equity in vaccine access necessary to address the virus evolution and pandemic impact.
“Of concern are broad-based booster programmes, including the booster vaccination of population sub-groups at lower risk of severe disease.
“Global supply is increasing significantly and is projected to be sufficient for vaccination of the entire adult population globally, and boosters of high-risk populations (as defined in the roadmap, in particular older adults and immunocompromised persons), by the first quarter of 2022.
“However, projections show that only later in 2022 supply will be sufficient for extensive use of boosters in all adults, and beyond, should they be broadly needed,” he said…. PACNEW