Healthcare

WHO chief warns wealthy nations against prioritizing booster shots amid ‘tsunami of cases’

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief on Wednesday urged wealthier nations not to prioritize coronavirus booster shots amid a “tsunami of cases” driven by the new omicron variant.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a news conference pressed wealthy nations to spread their share of vaccines with other countries, arguing the coronavirus will continue to evolve and the pandemic will worsen “if we don’t improve our collective response.”

“Delta and omicron are twin threats that are driving up cases to record numbers,” he said. “I’m highly concerned that omicron being more transmissible [and] circulating at the same time as delta is leading to a tsunami of cases.”

The director-general said the WHO will push for a vaccination rate of 70 percent for every country by mid-2022 and pleaded with wealthier nations to do their part to improve vaccine equity.

“We hope that it could help in ending the acute phase of the pandemic,” he said of the vaccination plan. “When we say 70 percent in each and every country, if all the at-risk groups … are included in that 70 percent, then we can see minimized hospitalization and deaths at a minimum, and that could lead to an end to the acute phase of the pandemic.”

Tedros has repeatedly knocked wealthier nations for prioritizing boosters or third shots of the vaccine, saying last week that “no country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”

“Enough vaccines were administered globally this year that the 40 percent target could have been reached in every country by September, if those vaccines had been distributed equitably,” he said. 

Developing countries continue to struggle to vaccinate their populations. Low- and middle-income nations have an average 20 percent vaccination rate, compared to 80 percent in wealthier countries, according to a September update from Covax, a collaborative initiative to share vaccines with the world.

Wealthier countries, including the U.S., have donated millions of vaccines to Covax, with about 2 billion doses expected to be delivered to developing nations in the first quarter of 2022. But Covax’s original goal was to deliver that amount by the end of 2021. The program has shipped about 901 million doses to 144 countries as of its last update.

Some of the vaccines have also been donated too close to their expiration date, making them unusable. Nigeria earlier this month dumped 1 million expired AstraZeneca vaccines.

Tags booster shots coronavirus cases COVAX Geneva Omicron Pandemic Switzerland Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus United Nations vaccinations World Health Organization

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