WHO asks wealthy nations to hold off on Covid vaccine boosters at least through September

A paramedic prepares doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for patients at a walk-in COVID-19 clinic inside a Buddhist temple in the Smithfield suburb of Sydney on August 4, 2021.

Saeed Khan | AFP | Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Wednesday called on wealthy nations to stop the distribution of Covid-19 booster shots, citing vaccine inequity around the world.

The agency said the halt should last at least two months, to give the world a chance to meet the director-general’s goal of vaccinating 10% of the population of every country by the end of September.

“We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low income countries,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing.

The request is part of Ghebreyesus’ plan to vaccinate 40% of the world by December, according to his senior advisor, Dr. Bruce Aylward.

“The big picture here is as a policy not to be moving forward with boosters until we get the whole world at a point where the older populations, people with comorbidities, people who are working at the front lines, are all protected to the degree possible with vaccines,” Aylward said at the briefing.

Vaccinating all the world’s population is critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. The delta variant that is now ravaging the U.S. was first detected by scientists in India after the original Covid strain was allowed to spread, replicate and ultimately mutate. The result was a highly infectious variant with a higher chance of vaccine evasion that has come to dominate in most countries.

More strains will emerge, posing more of a risk to all countries, vaccinated or unvaccinated, unless more of the world’s population is immunized.

“The entire world is in the middle of this and as we’ve seen with the emergence of variant after variant, we cannot get out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together, and with the huge disparity in vaccination coverage, we’re simply not going to be able to achieve that,” Aylward said.

The duration of the moratorium request could be extended if vaccine rates in countries with low rates do not increase.

“Right now, if you look at how vaccines are being used globally, the uptake rate by high-income countries, upper-middle-income countries, is absorbing too much of the global supply for the lowest-income countries,” Aylward said.

The move comes after Israel announced the country would give booster doses to its elderly population. The Dominican Republic has also been administering booster doses to its population, while neighboring country Haiti only recently secured its first batch of vaccine doses.

People in the U.S. are also finding ways to secure booster shots.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital said Tuesday that they would allow patients who have received the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to receive a supplemental shot of an mRNA vaccine.

Vaccine giant Pfizer has maintained that people will need a booster shot, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the data warranting the need for booster doses remains unclear.

WHO officials also said beyond December, they hope to have 70% of the world vaccinated by the middle of 2022, “and that’s when we can really start focusing around the edges on just how high it needs to go beyond that,” Dr. Kate O’Brien, WHO director of the department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, said at the briefing.

Until that goal is met, global health officials hope that countries with high vaccination rates will comply with the moratorium request, and more importantly, the call to end vaccine inequity.

“We need a strategy of vaccines, and we need the public health and social measures at individual level and community level, we need everybody to step up right now,” WHO Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said.

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