30/01/2021 12:05 GMT

UK Should Pause Vaccinations After Priority Groups Receive Jabs, WHO Urges

A WHO spokesperson said it was the "morally right thing to do" because rollout "needs to be fair" across the world.

OLI SCARFF via Getty Images
A healthcare professional administers a dose of Covid-19 vaccine at the vaccination centre in Thornton-Cleveleys, northwest England.

The UK should pause its coronavirus vaccination programme once vulnerable groups have received their jabs, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The government has pledged to offer the vaccine to every adult over the age of 18 in the UK by autumn 2021. 

But pausing the programme after health workers and people in vulnerable groups have been vaccinated would be “morally the right thing to do”, a WHO spokesperson said.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Margaret Harris said: “We’re asking countries, once you’ve got those groups, please ensure that the supply you’ve got access to is provided for others.

“While that is morally clearly the right thing to do, it’s also economically the right thing to do. 

“There have been a number of very interesting analyses showing that just vaccinating your own country and then sitting there and saying ‘we’re fine’ will not work economically.

 “That phrase ‘no man is an island’ applies economically as well.

“We in the world, we’re so connected and unless we get all societies working effectively once again, every society will be financially affected.”

The UK’s vaccination programme is currently working its way down through nine priority groups as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The JCVI’s nine priority groups for phase one of the vaccine rollout are:

1. Elderly care home residents and their carers.

2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers.

3. All those 75 years of age and over.

4. All those 70 years of age and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

5. All those 65 years of age and over.

6. Everyone aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.

7. All those 60 years of age and over.

8. All those 55 years of age and over.

9. All those 50 years of age and over.

When asked whether the UK should pause its programme after it has vaccinated the top nine priority groups, Harris replied: “We’re asking all countries in those circumstances to do that – ‘hang on, wait for those other groups’.

“We’ll also appeal to all the people of the UK – you can wait.

“What’s going to save lives right now is bringing down your transmission, and what brings down your transmission at this stage is not vaccines, that will take a while to kick in.”

She added: “Rather than rushing to vaccinate one country, we need to be doing the lot and we need to be doing it together.” 

The UK currently has one of the highest levels of vaccine coverage, along with Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but many poorer countries have yet to start vaccinating their citizens. 

Boris Johnson has said he aims to offer all adults in the UK a first dose by autumn, but the WHO has said countries should be aiming for “two billion doses” to be “fairly distributed” around the world by the end of 2021.