The leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday pushed back on calls from Pfizer for a third dose of vaccine, saying that instead the priority needs to be on vaccinating vulnerable people across the world who have not received any doses so far.
The comments from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Monday come after Pfizer made waves late last week by saying it would apply for authorization for giving a third, "booster" dose of vaccine.
"Currently, data shows us that vaccination offers long lasting immunity against severe and deadly COVID-19," Tedros said. "The priority now must be to vaccinate those who have received no doses and protection."
He also named Moderna, the other major company providing doses in the United States.
"Instead of Moderna and Pfizer prioritizing the supply of vaccines as boosters to countries whose populations have relatively high coverage, we need them to go all out to channel supply to COVAX, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and low- and middle-income countries, which have very low vaccine coverage," he said.
WHO officials said the focus should be on getting the first two doses to health workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people across the world, before people in wealthier countries start getting third doses.
"We need to decide what our priority is," said Mike Ryan, another top WHO official. "What part of 'This is a global crisis,' are we not getting?"
"The people who are most vulnerable are dying," he said. In some countries, "the health workers on the front line are unprotected," he added.
WHO officials said they are not ruling out the possibility that booster shots will be needed down the line, but said at this point there is not evidence that they are needed and there are urgent needs among people who have not received any doses.
U.S. health agencies also pushed back on Pfizer's announcement last week, saying there is no recommendation for boosters at this time, without ruling out the idea depending on what data shows. Pfizer is slated to discuss the issue with U.S. health officials on Monday.