The World Health Organisation has criticised countries running Covid booster programmes as poorer nations struggle to offer populations their initial doses.
The WHO has said that unequal access to vaccines could result in more mutated variants, which will only make it harder to move beyond Covid.
“Blanket booster programmes are likely to prolong the 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,” the WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Dr Tedros added that currently the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths are among people who are not vaccinated at all, rather than people who are vaccinated but who have not had a booster jab.
“No country can boost its way out of the pandemic,” he said.
This comes as countries including France and the UK accelerate their booster campaigns, and Israel announces that over-60s will be offered a fourth vaccine dose.
Scientists have said that Omicron is partly a result of vaccine inequality, as the variant is thought to have originated from South Africa, where only 26% of the population are fully vaccinated.
The first case may have come from a HIV-positive person whose immune system was compromised and in whom the virus could live and evolve over a longer period.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation published a statement yesterday (December 22), which said that 120 – mainly richer – countries had already started a booster programme, while other countries were yet to reach an initial vaccination coverage of 40%.