COVID-19: Halt vaccine booster shots until end of year, head of World Health Organisation says

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Wealthier countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines should refrain from offering booster shots until the end of the year, the head of the World Health Organisation has said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "appalled" by comments from pharmaceutical manufacturers who claim coronavirus vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both third jabs, and vaccinations in countries in need of shots.

"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," the WHO director-general said.

He previously called for a "moratorium" on COVID booster shots until the end of September, but wealthy countries including the UK, US, France, Germany and Spain have either begun or are considering giving booster jabs to vulnerable people.

Mr Tedros said he received a message of "clear support" from health ministers at a meeting of the influential Group of 20 countries this month for a commitment to help hit a WHO target for all countries to vaccinate at least 40% of their people by the end of the year.

"A month ago, I called for a global moratorium on booster doses, at least until the end of September to prioritise vaccinating the most at risk people around the world who are yet to receive their first dose," Mr Tedros said. "There has been little change in the global situation since then."

"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% of its population," he said.

The WHO says 5.5 billion jabs have been administered so far, but 80% of those have been in upper- and middle-income countries.

While wealthier countries have offered to donate one billion doses to other countries, under 15% of those have "materialised," Mr Tedros said.

"We don't want any more promises. We just want the vaccines," he added.

It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he is "confident" a booster programme can begin in the UK this month, saying he is awaiting advice on who should be eligible.

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to confirm a booster rollout will begin later this month, saying older people are the priority as autumn and winter approach.

However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is yet to provide a recommendation.

Mr Javid said he is "very confident" there will be a booster programme, but told Sky News: "In terms of who actually gets it and when, we're waiting for final advice which could come across, certainly, in the next few days from the JCVI."

He added: "I'm confident that we can start the booster programme this month."

Earlier this week the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, told MPs a booster programme is "ready to go" as soon as the scientific advice for the scheme is signed off.

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