WHO calls for COVID-19 booster shot moratorium until 2022
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday called on rich countries to refrain from giving people booster doses of coronavirus vaccines until at least 2022, expanding an earlier plea that has largely been ignored by wealthy nations.
WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nothing has changed since last month, when he called for a global moratorium on booster shots through the end of September.
Now, he’s extending the call until at least the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 percent of its population.
“We have been calling for vaccine equity from the beginning, not after the richest countries have been taken care of,” Tedros said during a news conference. “I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers.”
Tedros said third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there is evidence of waning immunity against severe disease and death “but for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated.”
Tedros’s comments come as wealthy nations have either already begun offering booster doses or have outlined plans to do so shortly. Israel has been leading the effort; it began offering boosters to people over age 60 on July 30, and just last week lowered the eligibility age to 12.
In the U.S., debate is raging over a plan announced last month to give boosters to all fully vaccinated Americans. President Biden and White House officials said they want to start giving boosters beginning Sept. 20, but experts have raised serious concerns about the ethics and whether the evidence even shows that the extra shots are necessary.
Some health officials have also reportedly been pushing back, and it’s not clear if federal regulators will agree with the plan.
White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Sunday that only the Pfizer vaccine booster may get authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in time for a rollout starting Sept. 20.
The WHO said 5.5 billion vaccine doses have now been administered worldwide, but 80 percent of them have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
The WHO has for months been calling on wealthy nations to give poorer countries more vaccine doses and to pause booster shots until poorer countries are able to vaccinate more people.
Tedros said the WHO’s targets are to support every country to vaccinate at least 10 percent of its population by the end of this month, at least 40 percent by the end of this year and 70 percent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.
Almost 90 percent of high-income countries vaccinated at least 10 percent of their populations, and more than 70 percent have vaccinated at least 40 percent of their populations.
But “not a single low-income country has reached either target,” Tedros said.
Rich countries have offered to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to other countries, but fewer than 15 percent of those doses have “materialized,” he said.
Manufacturers have also pledged to prioritize the U.N.-backed COVAX program to get vaccines to the neediest people in the world. Still, Tedros said, “we don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines.”
But COVAX on Wednesday cut its 2021 supply forecast by more than a quarter, saying only about 1.2 billion doses for low-income countries will be available over the next two months, and 1.4 billion by the end of the year.
“COVAX’s ability to protect the most vulnerable people in the world continues to be hampered by export bans, the prioritization of bilateral deals by manufacturers and countries, ongoing challenges in scaling up production by some key producers, and delays in filing for regulatory approval,” WHO and COVAX said in a joint statement.
In June, COVAX had forecast that about 1.9 billion doses would be available by the end of 2021.