A panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization believes that administering a second booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine to the most vulnerable people, amid the continued global spread of omicron and its sub-variants, could provide some benefit.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the United Nations health agency said there is “growing evidence on the value of an extra booster dose” for groups including healthcare workers, people over 60 and people with weak immune systems.
The WHO said its expert panel evaluated the limited data from seven studies of second booster doses of messenger RNA vaccines, saying there is not enough information to support their effectiveness in young healthy people.
“For those most at risk of severe illness or death…the added benefit of an additional booster dose of mRNA vaccine may be justified,” the WHO said, acknowledging that there may be logistical or other challenges to offer people a second booster dose. in some countries. While many rich countries have vaccinated over 70% of their population, less than 16% of people in poorer countries have been vaccinated.
Over the past year, the WHO has repeatedly criticized rich countries for offering booster doses and called for moratorium in practice, they say that boosters are not needed for healthy people. The agency changed its advice late last year amid the rise of the highly contagious omicron variant, after dozens of countries began offering booster doses.
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Some health experts warn that countries conducting additional booster campaigns could deplete the world’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines before a single shot is offered to the most vulnerable people in developing countries.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended March that Americans aged 50 and over are eligible for a second COVID-19 booster, while the European Medicines Agency has only approved second booster doses for those 80 and over.
With the continued spread of omicron and its sub-variants, WHO and other organizations continue to call for accelerated vaccination campaigns.
“We see that people who are vaccinated have a much lower risk of developing severe illness and death,” said WHO COVID-19 chief Maria Van Kerkhove, cautioning against the misconception that omicron is gentle. “We have solutions for this because we have vaccines,” she said.