Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) have provided updated recommendations on COVID vaccines in light of the dramatic spread of the Omicron variant. They warn repeat boosters are not a viable strategy to deal with emerging "variants of concern", and that current vaccines may need to be updated while new ones are being developed.
"A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable," the Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition, set up specifically to review and assess the public health implications of emerging variants, said in a statement.
"The composition of current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs, including Omicron and future variants."
The WHO has constantly stressed the importance of equitable access to vaccines across the world in halting the spread of COVID-19, given that under 10 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose yet, while countries such as Israel and Chile are already issuing second booster doses of the vaccine.
The strategy of boosting one’s population for every variant, however, is not a long-term plan. The WHO calls on pharmaceutical companies and research organizations to expand our arsenal of vaccines and vaccinations strategies. The ideal solution is a vaccine that is “variant independent”, something that is described as a more sustainable long-term option. Vaccinations ought to create immune responses that are broad, strong, and long-lasting — and available to everybody — to get out of this pandemic.
“With near- and medium-term supply of the available vaccines, the need for equity in access to vaccines across countries to achieve global public health goals, programmatic considerations including vaccine demand, and evolution of the virus, a vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” the Group said.
The group is asking COVID-19 manufacturers to create and share data on the current Omicron vaccines in the works, such as the recently-announced Pfizer one. The WHO stresses the importance of continuing to share data quickly and continuously to be able to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.