The World Health Organization on Wednesday called for a moratorium on coronavirus vaccine booster shots until the end of September in order to help all countries vaccinate at least 10% of their populations, urging the world’s wealthiest nations to address dramatic disparities in global vaccination rates.
“I understand all governments’ concern to protect their people from the Delta variant,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director general, said in a briefing. “However, we cannot — and should not — accept countries that have already used up the majority of the global supply of vaccines using even more of them while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”
More than 80 percent of the world’s more than 4 billion vaccine doses have been used in high- and upper-middle-income countries, which account for less than half of the world’s population, according to Dr. Tedros. According to him, high-income countries have administered nearly 100 doses per 100 people, whereas low-income countries have administered only 1.5 doses per 100 people, owing to a lack of supply.
“We urgently need a shift away from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries and toward the majority going to low-income countries,” he said.
As the debate over booster shots heated up, humanitarian organisations pressed the moral and scientific case for doses to be administered first to vulnerable people in poorer countries. African countries administered 5 doses per 100 people, compared to 88 doses per 100 people in Europe and 85 doses per 100 people in North America.
As the number of deaths in African countries has risen in recent months, some health workers, the elderly, and the vulnerable have gone completely unprotected. The urgency of vaccinating more people around the world has only grown as the Delta variant has spread: Delta is significantly more contagious than other variants and can cause more severe illness.
That made it unacceptable, according to Dr. Tedros, for millions of unvaccinated people to be exposed to transmission while others in wealthier countries could be eligible for booster shots.
Scientists have yet to reach an agreement on whether booster shots are necessary. However, as concerns grow about the continuation of pandemic waves and future lockdowns, a growing number of countries, including Germany, Israel, and France, are preparing to or have already begun administering booster doses to a portion of their populations.
According to studies, the immunity generated by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is long-lasting. Researchers are still trying to make sense of recent Israeli data indicating that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s efficacy declined months after inoculation.
The World Health Organization’s appeal on Wednesday largely placed the onus of closing the world’s vaccine gaps on the world’s wealthiest nations, stating that the leadership of G-20 countries would determine the course of the pandemic. Dr. Tedros urged those countries’ health ministers, who are meeting ahead of an October summit, to make “concrete commitments” to meet the organization’s global vaccination targets.
Wealthier countries have a clear incentive to fill vaccination gaps in a continuing crisis that has gripped every corner of the globe, because the pandemic will not end “unless the entire world gets out of it together,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior World Health Organization adviser, on Wednesday. “With such a wide disparity in vaccination coverage, we simply will not be able to achieve that.”