WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously called for a “moratorium” on Covid booster jabs through to the end of September – but the UK, US and others are pushing ahead with plans to offer them to vulnerable citizens.
Sajid Javid said the UK government is confident that a Covid booster programme will get the green light from its top scientific advisers in the “next few days”.
The health secretary 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 booster jabs.
“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 less than 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 he received a message of “clear support” from health ministers at a G20 meeting this month for a commitment to help hit a target that all countries vaccinate at least 40 per cent of their people by the end of the year.
“There has been little change in the global situation since then,” Dr Tedros said. “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.”
He also said he was “appalled” at comments by a leading association of pharmaceutical manufacturers that claimed vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both booster jabs and vaccinations in countries in dire need of doses.
Several wealthy nations – including Britain, the US, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain – have begun or are considering plans to offer third jabs of two-dose vaccines to 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.
The health secretary’s comments came 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.
Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of the pharmaceutical company, 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 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 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 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.