WHO wants COVID-19 vaccine boosters redirected to countries in need
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a global halt on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September so supplies can be prioritized for poorer countries with unvaccinated vulnerable populations. The goal, says the WHO, is to have 10 percent of every country vaccinated within two months.
France, Israel and the United Kingdom all plan to commence booster programs over the coming weeks, initially offering third shots of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable populations including the elderly and immunocompromised. The targeted booster programs are based on growing evidence showing some populations may need a third dose for effective protection from COVID-19.
Pfizer has recently started to push for broad administration of a third vaccine dose, delivered around six months after the second dose. The company says it is finding waning immunity against symptomatic infections, indicating a third booster may be needed six to 12 months after initial vaccination.
Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization and death, however, has so far remained incredibly high for the general population and it is this factor that underpins the WHO’s growing pushback against broad booster programs.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant,” says WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But we cannot and we should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccine using even more of it while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”
#HealthWorkers, older people & other at-risk groups need #COVID19 vaccines now. @WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated. #VaccinEquity pic.twitter.com/6AwkppgbJj— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) August 4, 2021
More than 4.25 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far around the world. The vast majority of those doses have been administered in high-income countries, a disparity the WHO has previously labeled shameful and unethical.
The aim of the moratorium on booster shots, according to the WHO, is for wealthy governments and vaccine manufacturers to temporarily divert supplies to poorer countries. This would be achieved through a program called COVAX, designed to distribute COVID-19 vaccines across low-income regions. And the short-term goal will be to have every country in the world at least 10 percent vaccinated by the end of September.
Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s head of vaccines, says the proposed moratorium is targeted at broad administration of booster shots. It is not at all directed at stifling third doses for vulnerable or immunocompromised populations.
The United States is yet to decide on a vaccine booster program. The White House quickly pushed back on the WHO’s moratorium call with press secretary Jen Psaki stressing this is not an either/or situation.
“We definitely feel that it’s a false choice and we can do both,” says Psaki. “Also in this country [we] have enough supply to ensure that every American has access to a vaccine.”