Wealthier countries including the UK should send spare vaccines to poorer nations before organising booster jabs, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) has said
A special envoy for the WHO, David Nabarro, has said to the BBC that top-up vaccines and any extra vaccinations “should come a bit later”.
He said that COVID was “bigger than ever, it’s fiercer than ever and it’s causing more distress than ever” worldwide.
The UK has said that its current COVID vaccine booster programme could start as early as this September.
The UK government has also pledged to donate its surplus vaccine doses to those poorer nations that have been worse-affected by the coronavirus.
This comes after mountaineers and authorities at a base camp at Mount Everest in Nepal have said that they are seeing rising numbers of climbers with symptoms for the COVID-19 virus and rising numbers for positive tests, raising the fears of a serious outbreak at the camp.
Mr Nabarro said to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that the coronavirus was now spreading in toplaces where testing for the disease was poor, meaning that the numbers that are being reported are at risk of being a “major under-estimate”.
“This is a bad phase,” he said.
As foreign ministers for the G7 group of countries meet in London, he has urged leaders to begin to begin distributing any spare doses of vaccines to those countries in the grip of the coronavirus amid a global shortage of supply.
He said he wanted “to plead with G7 leaders, with G20 leaders, with every leader, with everybody who’s got influence, to please recognise that we’ve got to try to get vaccines distributed to those who need them the most now in this period of acute shortage of supply.”
Mr Nabarro added that “top-ups and other extra things and extra protection for people in the wealthy countries… should come a bit later.”
This comes after Nadhim Zahawi, the UK’s Vaccines Minister, has said that extra funding would fast-track new COVID-19 vaccines to “future-proof” the United Kingdom against new coronavirus variants.
Existing vaccines protect against variants of the coronavirus such as the one found in Kent, but experts say that the UK needs to be prepared as the coronavirus keeps mutating.
Mr Zahawi said that the £29.3m funding increase would improve COVID-19 testing facilities at the Porton Down research laboratory.
He also said that the UK’s booster programme could begin as early as September “or later in the year, or early next year”.
He said on BBC Breakfast that clinicians would consider how well the protection from jabs had lasted when deciding when they will begin rolling out the programme.
Last week, the UK government ordered a further 60 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which it said would be used alongside other brands of vaccine for the booster jabs.
This comes after Oxygen cylinders and ventilators landed in Delhi from the UK, but far more will be required, with India recording 320,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, with total deaths rising close to 200,000.
Following the funding announcement, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are committed to supporting the UK’s flourishing life-sciences industry – and this announcement is yet another critical way we will build back better to protect the country over the coming months and years.”
UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave.
“This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants.
“While we expect the existing vaccines to offer protection against new variants, particularly preventing serious illness and death, it is important that we continue to monitor the picture as it develops.”
The government has already announced a deal with the biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop vaccines against future variants, with 50 million doses pre-ordered.