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A person in India receives a coronavirus vaccine

A health worker administers a dose of Covid-19 vaccine on August 3, 2021 in Greater Noida, India. (Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

WHO Calls for Moratorium on Covid Booster Shots as Billions Go Without Single Vaccine Dose

"We cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world's most vulnerable people remain unprotected."

Jake Johnson

The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday called for an immediate moratorium on the provision of coronavirus booster shots until at least the end of September, a demand aimed at redressing the massive and persistent inoculation gap between rich and poor countries.

"We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries."
—Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

During a media briefing Wednesday morning, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said rich countries should hold off on administering boosters for those who have already received two shots and instead send surplus doses to undervaccinated, low-income countries, which are struggling to fight off the highly transmissible Delta variant and other alarming mutations.

The objective, said Tedros, would be to "enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated" before countries resume their booster-shot campaigns. Israel has already begun offering boosters to older adults, and rich European nations and the United States are poised to follow suit in the coming weeks.

Late last month, as CNN reported, the Biden administration bought up an additional 200 million doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to prepare for "the possibility of booster shots for vaccinated individuals."

Tedros said the rollout of booster shots in rich nations that have hoarded much of the global vaccine supply is morally unconscionable amid such vast inequities in distribution, which have left billions of people without access to a single dose.

"I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant," said Tedros. "But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world's most vulnerable people remain unprotected."

Asia Russell, executive director of the advocacy group Health GAP, said the WHO is "absolutely right" to demand a temporary moratorium on booster shots.

"Germany, the U.K., and Israel should be shamed for their unscientific and unethical moves," said Russel. "And Pfizer should be shamed by world leaders for their deeply unethical push for boosters."

According to the latest figures from Our World in Data, just 1.1% of the 4.25 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses administered across the globe have gone to low-income nations, and more than 80 countries have fully inoculated less than 10% of their populations.

As Nature reported last week, "Data do not yet show that extra doses are needed to save lives, researchers say, except perhaps for people with compromised immune systems, who might fail to generate much of an antibody response to the initial Covid-19 shots."

"An internal analysis from the WHO estimates that if the 11 rich countries that are either rolling out boosters or considering it this year were to give the shots to everyone over 50 years old, they would use up roughly 440 million doses of the global supply," Nature noted. "If all high-income and upper-middle-income nations were to do the same, the estimate doubles. The WHO maintains that these shots would be more useful for curbing the pandemic if they were sent to low- and lower-middle-income countries, where more than 85% of people—some 3.5 billion—haven't had a single jab."

"The notion that those of us in the United States and Europe are somehow safe from Covid while variants are allowed to rage throughout the rest of the world for lack of vaccines and treatments is a deluded fantasy."
—Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign

"If all high-income and upper-middle-income nations were to do the same, the estimate doubles," Nature noted. "The WHO maintains that these shots would be more useful for curbing the pandemic if they were sent to low- and lower-middle-income countries, where more than 85% of people—some 3.5 billion—haven't had a single jab."

In his remarks Wednesday, Tedros said that "high-income countries have now administered almost 100 doses for every 100 people" while "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 continued. "To make that happen, we need everyone's cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines. 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."

Major G20 countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, are also the leading opponents of a push to temporarily waive coronavirus vaccine patents in order to boost the global supply of doses. First introduced in October by India and South Africa, the proposed patent waiver has gone nowhere at the World Trade Organization due to stonewalling by rich countries.

Last week, the WTO adjourned for an August vacation without making any progress on the waiver, which is backed by more than 100 nations including the United States.

"Rather than rising to the moment, the WTO is instead hitting the snooze button," Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, said in a statement. "The notion that those of us in the United States and Europe are somehow safe from Covid while variants are allowed to rage throughout the rest of the world for lack of vaccines and treatments is a deluded fantasy."

Tedros' speech Wednesday came as coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising in low-income countries that have struggled to get vaccination campaigns off the ground. The WHO estimates that coronavirus deaths in Africa—where just 1% of people have been fully vaccinated—surged by 80% over the past month as the Delta variant wreaked havoc across the continent and around the world.

India, the world's second-most populous country, appears to be on the verge of another coronavirus wave as the nation struggles to recover from the last one. Just 7.6% of India's population has been fully vaccinated.

"In late May, I called for global support for a 'sprint to September,' to enable every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September," Tedros said. "We're now more than halfway to that target date, but we're not on track."


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