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COVID booster dose campaigns will not end pandemic, WHO says

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By Euronews
People crowd via del Corso shopping street in Rome, 21 December 2021.
People crowd via del Corso shopping street in Rome, 21 December 2021.   -   Copyright  Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP

Booster dose campaigns are likely to prolong the pandemic instead of ending it, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Wednesday, stating that the campaigns were not a ticket to go ahead with holiday festivities.

"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," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, at a press briefing.

"No country can boost its way out of the pandemic," he added.

Currently, around 20% of the world's vaccine doses administered daily are currently being given as boosters, even though only half of WHO member states have been able to vaccinate 40% of their populations and nearly three in four health workers in Africa remain unvaccinated.

"Boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with the planned celebrations without the need for other precautions," Dr Tedros added.

He said that supply should be sufficient to vaccinate the entire global population by the first quarter of 2022, but only by the end of the year will global vaccine supply be sufficient to give boosters globally.

He urged countries to focus on supporting countries in vaccinating 40% of their populations.

Many Western countries have moved forward with adult booster campaigns as the more transmissible Omicron variant spreads. 

The new variant has been reported in at least 106 countries as of this week, WHO said. It has been driving up case numbers in Europe, Africa and the Americas in particular.

While global cases in December have remained similar, deaths increased by 9% globally last week, WHO said in its recent epidemiological report.

The European region -- which includes parts of Central Asia -- continued to report the highest incidence of weekly cases, followed by the Americas.

Last week, the African region, where the Omicron variant was first detected, reported the highest increase in COVID-19 cases.

"As we approach a new year, we must all learn the painful lessons this year taught us. 2022 must be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic but it must also be the beginning of something else, a new era of solidarity. We must leave 2021 behind with sorrow and look forward to 2022 with hope," Dr Tedros said.

Watch the full press conference in the video player above.