People who are not vaccinated could be “potential variant factories” – risking a more dangerous Covid mutation in the future, a scientist has claimed.
Experts fear that all the progress made in the battle against coronavirus could be undone if a new variant is able to avoid existing vaccines.
This is all the more likely if a large number of people have not been jabbed, as calls mount for vaccinations to be sped up across the world.
It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls for jabs to be shared faster with poorer nations, amid warnings that no one is protected until the whole world is vaccinated.
Dr William Schaffner, professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN : “Unvaccinated people are potential variant factories.
“The more unvaccinated people there are, the more opportunities for the virus to multiply.
“When it does, it mutates, and it could throw off a variant mutation that is even more serious down the road.”
WHO general director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu this week warned that vaccine sharing was “only a trickle, which is being outpaced by variants”.
He said that by July next year, 70 per cent of people in every country will need to be vaccinated.
Dr Tedros said: “This is the best way to slow the pandemic, save lives and drive a truly global economic recovery, and along the way prevent further dangerous variants from getting the upper hand.”
This view was echoed by Oxford professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led the team which produced the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Dame Sarah said she was worried about plans to vaccinate children in high-income countries while Covid is still prevalent across the world.
She told the Observer : “We’re not completely out of the woods. And that’s why I’m very worried about getting vaccines around the rest of the world because we need to stop the virus being transmitted and continuing to evolve.
“That could give us a new variant that is going to be really difficult to deal with.”
David Bauer, from the Francis Crick Institute, warned that vaccinations need to be done faster around the world.
He said: “We need everybody vaccinated now. We are not all protected until the whole world is protected.
“It can come across as idealism, but it’s not – there’s a cold-hearted, self-interested motivation behind all of it.”
There is a huge disparity around the world, with some countries – including Chad, Zambia, Mali, the Demoncratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso having so far administered at least one jab to less than one per cent of their populations.