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WHO calls on governments not to pursue herd immunity while vaccine shortages persist

Countries should not pursue herd immunity strategies while vaccines are in short supply, the World Health Organization has said, urging governments to instead share excess doses once health care workers and the most vulnerable are protected.

Speaking at a virtual press briefing on Thursday Dr Hans Kluge, head of WHO Europe, warned that the world “simply cannot afford to leave any country, any community, behind” in the fight to curb Covid-19.

“At this point in time, and after so many months in cycles of hope and despair, herd immunity is an understandable desired end-point,” Dr Kluge told journalists. “Yet it cannot be our immediate, primary concern.

“I want to emphasise that vaccine roll-outs are essential, first and foremost, to reduce severe disease in vulnerable groups, release the pressure on our hospitals and avoid the risk of our health systems collapsing,” he added.

In Britain, where the Vaccine Taskforce has secured more than 350 million doses of different jabs, such a policy could mean that supplies are redirected to countries with limited access to immunisations once the most vulnerable 25 million people have been protected.

The JCVI estimates that “taken together, these groups represent around 99 per cent of preventable mortality from Covid-19”. When this point is reached, experts suggest that the government can begin to lift stringent restrictions.

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