29th Mar 2023

WHO calls for vaccine-booster pause to help poor countries

  • Low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people due to lack of supply (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday (4 August) urged rich countries to halt Covid-19 vaccines boosters to enable every country in the world to vaccinate at least 10 percent of its population by the end of September.

"While hundreds of millions of people are still waiting for their first dose, some rich countries are moving towards booster doses," the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said.

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"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," he added.

High-income countries had administered around 50 doses for every 100 people in May, but the number has since then doubled, according to the UN agency. Meanwhile, low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people due to lack of supply.

"We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries," Tedros also said, as confirmed global coronavirus cases approach 200 million. The pandemic has caused nearly 4.4 million deaths.

Countries across Europe and the Middle East are starting to administer the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine for the most vulnerable in a bid to halt the spread of the more-contagious Delta variant.

Israel has been the first country in the world to launch a vaccine-booster programme, offering a third dose to people over 60.

And Hungary became this week the first EU country to make third shots available for its population. The elderly, those with chronic diseases or a weakened immune system are especially encouraged to request a vaccine booster.

In Germany, health officials will start offering vaccine boosters for vulnerable groups starting in September.

Those who got a shot from AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be able to receive an mRNA vaccine, such as those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.

Likewise, France has also announced that a third dose will be given to the most vulnerable from early September.

The UK government plans to offer a vaccine booster to 32 million people from September to December, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer/BioNTech have positioned themselves in favour of third doses, as they see their annual vaccine revenues increasing due to growing orders.

They said that a booster dose given six months after the second dose would provide antibody levels five to ten times higher than those obtained after the two primary injections.

"Based on the totality of the data they have to date, Pfizer and BioNTech believe that a third dose may be beneficial to maintain the highest levels of protection," they said in a statement released in July.

Earlier this year, the EU secured 1.8 billion extra doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, to be delivered between the end of 2021 and 2023, which could be used for possible booster shots.

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