The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a moratorium on COVID vaccine boosters until at least the end of September so that more of the world’s population can receive a first jab. While two doses are considered necessary to provide protection against severe symptoms, some countries are now providing citizens with a third shot in order to bolster their immunity, despite the fact that many people in less developed nations are yet to receive any protection.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Wednesday, August 4.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot and we should not 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."
The announcement came shortly after Israel began offering booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech to people over the age of 60. At a press event last week, prime minister Naftali Bennett revealed that more than 2,000 people have so far received a third jab. In the US, a San Francisco hospital is offering Pfizer or Moderna "supplemental doses" to those who had the Johnson & Johnson Janssen one-shot vaccine.
Meanwhile, the UK has put together a plan to begin offering booster doses next month, although this has yet to be finalized.
According to Our World in Data, 29.3 percent of the world population has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Only 1.1 percent of people in low-income countries have received a first dose.
It is currently not known how much protection a third vaccination dose would deliver, although governments have been anxiously eyeing up the idea since it became apparent that the immunity provided by two doses wanes over time. Last week, for instance, Pfizer announced that the efficacy of its vaccine against symptomatic COVID drops to 84 percent after four months.
According to Dr Tedros, high-income countries have now administered 100 vaccine doses for every 100 citizens, while some lower-income nations have only delivered 1.5 doses per 100 people, due to a lack of supply. With 11 wealthy countries now considering a roll-out of booster doses, the WHO estimates that a further 440 million doses could be used up by these nations.
The organization has therefore called for a halt to booster doses until at least 10 percent of the population of every country has received a first vaccination. In response, the US has announced that it believes it has the capacity to deliver boosters to its most vulnerable citizens while also donating enough doses to developing countries to ensure their populations are protected.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve the use of boosters, the White House has refused to rule out the possibility of administering a third COVID vaccine dose to vulnerable Americans, should the data support this.