Covid vaccine: WHO boss urges wealthy countries to delay booster jabs

Afghanistan has received vaccines through the UN's COVAX scheme. Credit: AP

Booster Covid-19 vaccines should be delayed as a way of ensuring doses are available in countries where few people have received first doses, the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s head has insisted.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the appeal mostly to wealthier countries that have far outpaced the developing world in numbers of vaccinations. WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The UN health agency has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world.

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Dr Ghebreyesus pointed to a WHO target set earlier this year to ensure that 10% of the populations in countries receive vaccines against the coronavirus. “Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” he said on Wednesday. To help take the heat out of the pandemic, WHO has been focusing on getting vaccines to older adults, health care workers and other target populations in many countries before booster shot campaigns are carried out. Israel, France, Germany and many Middle Eastern countries have already started administering booster shots.

Other nations, including the United States and Britain, are considering plans to do so in the wake of the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

After months of not having any vaccines, Haiti received 500,000 doses donated by the US through the UN COVAX system in July. Credit: AP

Dr. Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s director for immunisation, vaccines and biologicals, noted that a “very limited number” of countries were giving booster doses, though a larger number were contemplating it.

“The evidence is evolving. It’s moving. We don’t have a full set of evidence around whether this is needed or not,” Dr O’Brien said, adding that the main message was that “we need instead to focus on those people who are most vulnerable.” WHO officials reiterated their call for global “solidarity” to help battle the coronavirus pandemic and appealed to wealthy countries and corporations to help. “We need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines,” Dr Ghebreyesus said, appealing in particular to the influential 'Group of 20' large economies.

“The G20 has a vital leadership role to play as the countries that are the biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of Covid-19 vaccines.”

He urged the G20, which currently is chaired by Italy, to make “concrete commitments to support global vaccination targets.” “We call on everyone with influence - Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community - to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.