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WHO urges world leaders to pause on COVID-19 booster shots until end of 2021

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A health worker in Mali prepares one of 396,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses supplied to the West African country through the COVAX Facility. (Photo by UNICEF)

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged world leaders to pause COVID-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of the year.

This comes after the world health body has earlier requested that the extra doses should go to low-income nations and not to “healthy” vaccinated people.

“Today I am calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing Wednesday.

He added that while 90% of wealthier countries had reached the 10% vaccination target, and some two-thirds hit the 40% mark, none of the low-income country has reached either target.

90% of high-income countries have reached the 10% #COVID19 vaccination target; 70%+ have reached the 40% target. Not 1 low-income country has reached either target. This is why I call for a booster moratorium extension until the end of 2021.https://t.co/DGXyAJvD5i #VaccinEquity pic.twitter.com/fU8jejdR0K

— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) September 8, 2021

Tedros had previously called for a “moratorium” on booster shots through the end of September to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up vaccination.

However, rich countries and the world’s largest producers, consumers and donors of vaccines in the world’s 20 leading economies have begun or are considering plans to give additional doses to people with compromised immune systems, while some nations have not received their first dose yet.

COVAX, the UN-backed global vaccine-sharing scheme, had initially aimed to provide two billion vaccine doses to people in 190 countries this year, including 92 lower-income countries, ensuring at least 20 percent of populations are vaccinated but unfortunately has not reached its goals.

Wealthy countries have also offered to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to other countries, but fewer than 15% of those doses have “materialized”, Tedros noted, saying that manufacturers have pledged to prioritize COVAX and low-income countries to get vaccines to the neediest people in the world.

Vaccine inequality has been denounced by many prominent health figures and officials. But in reality, wealthy countries have limited the vaccines available to COVAX and led to COVID-19 vaccine hoarding.

The stockpiling has also delayed dose-sharing by G7 countries with Africa and low-income countries. Vaccination coverage in Africa was just 2 percent, according to WHO statics.

According to WHO officials, the vaccine shortage is the main cause of prolong pandemic as poor countries are struggling to get supplies.

“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,” WHO Chief said, adding that low- and lower-middle-income countries were “not the second or third priority… Their health workers, older people, and other at-risk groups have the same right to be protected.”

Despite the WHO’s confirmation for a booster legal deadline, Hans Kluge, WHO Europe’s regional director, in comments last month said he believes a third dose of vaccine is not a luxury booster taking away from someone who is still waiting for a first jab and should be given to people who are most at risk.

“The first priority is to ensure that the most vulnerable get their first and second shot. Then we have to do it all, meaning that in those countries where we see that people with decreased immunity, the elderly people, have a waning immunity against severe disease, then those countries can consider a third dose,” Kluge said.

His remarks contradicted the words of other WHO officials, who have suggested booster shots are indeed a luxury for high-income nations and would prevent poorer countries of the first dose which is vital. Tedros himself has noted that there is a debate about whether booster shots are effective at all.


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