Aug. 4, 2021 — The World Health Organization is calling on wealthy nations to wait to give their citizens booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines until at least the end of September to give more people in other countries a chance to get a first dose of these lifesaving shots.
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, PhD, said that more than 80% of the 4 billion vaccine doses given around the world had been distributed to high-income countries, though they represent less than half the world’s population.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant,” Ghebreyesus said. “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.”
So far, high-income countries have given about 100 vaccine doses for every 100 people, while low-income countries have given just 1.5 doses for every 100 people.
“Which means, in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world with the weakest health systems, health care workers are working without protection … the older populations remain at high risk,” said Bruce Aylward, MD, the WHO’s senior adviser on organizational change.
But not everyone agrees.
Leana Wen, MD, a visiting professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, said there are doses already in the United States that won’t last long enough to be sent elsewhere.
“Yes, we need to get vaccines to the world (which also includes helping with distribution, not just supply), but there are doses expiring here in the U.S.,” she said on Twitter. “Why not allow those immunosuppressed to receive them?”
Israel became the first country to start giving some residents booster shots on Sunday, offering extra doses to seniors who are more than 5 months past their last vaccinations. On Monday, Germany announced it would also give booster doses to vulnerable patients, such as nursing home residents, beginning in September.
Aylward said the moratorium was all about “trying to put a hold on those policies until and unless we get the rest of the world caught up.”
He said it’s clear from the emergency of variant after variant that if we don’t stop the transmission of the virus around the world, the pandemic would continue to put pressure on the vaccines, making them less and less effective.
“We cannot get out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together,” Aylward said.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries,” Ghebreyesus said, asking leaders of high-income countries to wait on distributing booster doses until at least 10% of the world’s population is vaccinated.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines,” he said.