The WHO is urging rich countries with large vaccine stocks to refrain from providing booster shots until the end of the year

'We Want Vaccines': WHO Chief Recommends Moratorium On Covid Boosters For Rest Of The Year

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Thursday, September 9, 2021 04:35 PM IST
'We Want Vaccines': WHO Chief Recommends Moratorium On Covid Boosters For Rest Of The YearTedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization
  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for an extension of the moratorium on booster doses until the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of its population.

    He noted that manufacturers agreed to prioritise the COVAX programme, but he stated, “we don’t want any more promises, we just want the vaccines."

The World Health Organization's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is urging rich countries with large stocks of coronavirus vaccines to refrain from providing booster shots until the end of the year, a call that has mostly gone unheeded.

Tedros also said that he was "appalled" by comments from a key association of pharmaceutical manufacturers that suggested vaccine stocks are sufficient to provide for both booster doses and immunisations in countries where vaccines are desperately needed but are in short supply.

As reported by Associated Press, During a news conference on 8 September, he said: “I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers. Because manufacturers have prioritised or been legally obliged to fulfil bilateral deals with rich countries willing to pay top dollar, low-income countries have been deprived of the tools to protect their people.”

Many experts and the WHO itself said that vaccine booster would be required in future, but right now, there is no need to give a third dose to already vaccinated individuals while a significant number of people around the world remains unvaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

Tedros had earlier called for a “moratorium” on booster doses until the end of September, the United States and other nations have begun or are preparing to provide them to most vulnerable citizens, including elderly people and those with the compromised immune system.

Booster Controversy

Israel—after witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases in recent months, when the country thought that it won the battle against the pandemic by vaccinating a large portion of the population—launched its booster vaccination program. It was clear that the country didn’t want to take a chance with the Delta variant and decided to safeguard as many Israelis as possible.

However, Israel published a study, which claimed that people who receive a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab have a significantly lower risk of infection from the novel virus, including the Delta variant. As of now, over 2 million people in Israel got the booster shot.

Meanwhile, health officials in the US recommended that all Americans should get booster shots to increase their immunity amid evidence that vaccines’ effectiveness is reducing. But according to the United Nations health agency, the scientific justification for boosters is yet unknown.

However, Tedros said that this week he received a message of "clear support" from health ministers at a meeting of the influential Group of 20 countries for a commitment to help all countries reach a WHO target to inoculate at least 40 per cent of their people by the end of 2021.

He stated that “a month ago, I called for a global moratorium on booster doses, at least until the end of September to prioritise vaccinating the most at-risk people around the world who are yet to receive their first dose. There has been little change in the global situation since then.”

“So today, I’m calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of its population,” he added.

According to the UN health agency, 5.5 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far, with upper- and middle-income countries receiving 80 per cent of those doses. Rich countries have also offered to donate 1 billion doses to other countries, but only about 15 per cent of those doses have materialised, according to Tedros.

He also noted that manufacturers have agreed to prioritise the COVAX programme, which aims to send vaccines to the world's most vulnerable people, regardless of their country's income, but he stated that “we don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines”.

However, the WHO’s concerns are not imaginary, as COVAX managers had cut their target for shipping doses this year again on 8 September, estimating that roughly 1.4 billion doses will be available through the programme by the end of the year, down from about 1.8 billion earlier. In 2021, they initially planned to send out 2 billion doses.

COVAX has suffered challenges, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which co-runs the inoculation initiative. These include export limitations from India, a key vaccine manufacturer and the country which faced a deadly second wave of the pandemic, as well as regulatory hurdles for some vaccine candidates and manufacturing issues elsewhere.

It also stated that deliveries are ramping up quickly, with another 1.1 billion doses scheduled to be available under the programme by the end of the year, up from 330 million so far. The majority of those dosages have gone to or will go to poorer countries. According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, roughly 1.5 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses are now produced per month, with expectations that a total of 12 billion will be produced by the end of 2021.

Dr Bruce Aylward, an advisor to Tedros said that although some nations may be moving through with decisions to broadly administer boosters, WHO call for a moratorium “makes a real difference”. Some countries have approached the WHO to see if booster policies might be postponed.

He said: “Our role is to make sure that we put forward the strongest possible arguments and way out of this pandemic — and the way out of that is a moratorium and to extend it. Because since the last time we called for it, the equity gap has gotten greater, the amount of vaccine available to low-income countries has gone down.”

During this controversial situation, when some countries go in for booster shots, while others wait to get primary doses, Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO said that vaccine supplies that have been committed to a country are not shifted to another country because it is larger or has different needs.

He said: “We will not move around doses on the basis of, now I want to do kids or now I want to do boosters. The doses have been allocated for this year and we will maintain this allocation.” Among the three billion doses for this year, the American vaccine manufacturer has allocated 41 per cent to middle- and low-income countries and Bourla said “this will not change”.

In addition, he said: “We have allocated at least one billion – although we do not have orders for one billion for low- and middle-income countries – for next year. I think it’s important that those that would like to receive doses, they secure their order.”

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