WHO chief knocks blanket coronavirus vaccine booster programs

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday criticized wealthier nations rolling out blanket coronavirus vaccine booster programs while poorer countries struggle to reach a vaccination rate target of 40 percent by the end of he year.

“It’s frankly difficult to understand how a year since the first vaccines were administered, 3 in 4 health workers in Africa remain unvaccinated,” Tedros said during a COVID-19 briefing

“While some countries are now rolling out blanket booster programs, only half of WHO’s member states have been able to reach the target of vaccinating 40 percent of their populations by the end of the year, because of distortions in global supply.”  

He added, “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, through COVAX and AVAT. No country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”

COVAX is the WHO-backed initiative to supply lower-income countries with coronavirus vaccines. AVAT acts as a central purchaser of vaccines for African Union nations.

Tedros also said COVAX projections show the global vaccine supply should be sufficient to vaccinate the adult population and to ensure boosters for high-risk groups across the world in the first quarter of 2022.

He noted, however, that if the supply is equitably distributed, there will only be a sufficient enough amount of vaccines for all adults to be boosted by later in 2022. 

The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) issued a statement during the briefing that concluded that immunization needs to focus on preventing death, and booster programs will exacerbate vaccine inequity across the globe.

SAGE also said that 1 in 5 vaccine doses being administered on a daily basis worldwide are boosters or additional shots. 

“Blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate,” Tedros said, noting the vast majority of coronavirus hospitalization and deaths occur in the unvaccinated, not the un-boosted, and that vaccines remain effective against the omicron variant. 

This is not the first time the WHO director has criticized wealthy countries’ focus on booster shots. Last month Tedros called it a “scandal” that wealthier countries were distributing boosters while poorer nations struggled to get enough vaccines.

The WHO in September called for a moratorium on booster doses until late 2022. 

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus booster shots coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 Geneva Switzerland Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO World Health Organization

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