GENEVA (AP) – The head of the World Health Organization called on Wednesday for a moratorium on booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure dose availability in countries where few people received their first vaccines.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has made an appeal mainly to wealthier countries, which have far outstripped developing countries in terms of vaccinations. He said richer countries have introduced about 100 doses of coronavirus vaccine for every 100 people on average, while low-income countries, hampered by vaccine shortages, have provided only about 1.5 doses per 100 people.
WHO officials say science has not proven that vaccinating people who have already received two doses of the vaccine is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The UN health agency has repeatedly called on rich countries to do more to improve access to vaccines in developing countries. He argued that no one is safe until everyone is safe, because the longer and wider the spread of the coronavirus, the more likely new options will emerge – and the global crisis will continue in the fight against the pandemic.
The agency has no mandate to demand action from countries, and has been ignored by many in the past on issues such as transferring vaccines, limiting cross-border travel, and taking steps to increase vaccine production in developing countries.
Tedros pointed to a WHO target he announced in May, aiming to ensure that 10% of the population in all countries receive coronavirus vaccines.
“Accordingly, the WHO calls for a moratorium on revaccination at least until the end of September, to enable at least 10% of the population of each country to be vaccinated,” he said at a press conference.
To alleviate the pandemic, WHO has focused on vaccinating older people, health care workers and other target populations in many countries prior to revaccination campaigns.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, special adviser to Tedros, said the moratorium was linked to a call on countries considering booster doses to “suspend” such policies “until we involve the rest of the world” in the fight against the pandemic.
“As we saw in the example of the emergence of option after option, we cannot get out of it until the whole world comes out of it together. And with huge inequalities in vaccination coverage, we just can’t do that, ”Aylward said.
Israel, France, Germany and many countries in the Middle East have already started using boosters, and other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, are considering plans to do so following the emergence of the high transmission delta variant.
Dr Catherine O’Brien, Head of Vaccines at WHO, noted that “a very limited number” of countries are administering booster doses, although more are considering it.
“Evidence evolves. They are moving. We do not have a complete set of evidence for whether this is necessary or not, “O’Brien said, adding that the main message was that” instead, we need to focus on those people who are most vulnerable. “
WHO officials reiterated their call for global “solidarity” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and turned to wealthy countries and corporations for help.
“We need the cooperation of everyone, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global vaccine supply,” Tedros said, addressing in particular the influential group of 20 major economies. “The G-20 has a vital leadership role as countries that are the largest producers, largest consumers and largest donors of COVID-19 vaccines.”
He called on the G20, currently led by Italy, to make “concrete commitments to support the global goals of vaccination.”
“We call on everyone with influence – Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, religious leaders and everyone in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster vaccines until at least the end of September,” Tedros said.