As the gap between vaccinations in wealthy and poor countries widen, WHO has stepped in and called for a halt on COVID-19 vaccine boosters till end of September. This call for a moratorium is the strongest yet from the world body.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant, but we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
According to WHO, low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply, while high-income countries have administered around 50 doses for every 100 people in May. This number has since doubled. Tedros said the world needs an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries to the majority going to low-income countries.
Moreover, an internal analysis from WHO estimates that if the 11 rich countries that are either rolling out boosters or considering it this year were to give the shots to everyone over 50 years old, they would use up roughly 440 million doses of the global supply; and if all high-income and upper-middle-income nations were to do the same, the estimate doubles.
Elin Hoffmann Dahl, infectious diseases medical adviser to Medecins Sans Frontieres’ access campaign, said the fact that we are vaccinating healthy adults with a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines is a “short-sighted” way of thinking. “With the emergence of new variants, if we continue to leave the majority of the world unvaccinated, we will most definitely need adjusted vaccines in the future.”
To tackle the delta variant, a number of countries including the US, United Kingdom, Germany and Israel have begun to use or started weighing on the need for booster doses. Notedly, Israeli president Isaac Herzog received a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine – kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to people aged over 60 in the country.
On July 8, Pfizer and BioNTech announced they planned to seek emergency authorization for a booster dose of their vaccine, saying that their data shows their vaccine’s efficacy is waning and that a booster may be needed within six to 12 months after full vaccination. However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time and emphasized that the vaccines remain highly effective against severe disease and death.
Global-health researchers warn that boosters could set back efforts to end the pandemic. Each booster, they say, represents a vaccine dose that could instead go to low and middle-income countries, where most citizens have no protection at all, and where dangerous COVID-19 variants could emerge as cases surge.