The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called the distribution of booster COVID-19 vaccines a “scandal that must stop now” on Friday as poorer countries continue to wait for the initial doses.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized countries with the “highest vaccine coverage” at a WHO briefing for collecting extra doses of vaccine and giving priority to giving their citizens third and fourth doses rather than getting vulnerable populations in other nations vaccinated.
“This is a scandal that needs to stop now,” he said.
In fact, he cited data that six times more booster doses are administered globally than initial doses in low-income countries.
“It makes no sense to give boosters to healthy adults or to vaccinate children when health professionals, the elderly and other high-risk groups around the world are still waiting for their first dose,” he added, noting that immunocompromised people are an exception.
Tedros also pointed out that countries need other measures against coronavirus in addition to vaccines, saying, “No country can simply vaccinate itself out of the pandemic.”
The WHO has consistently pushed back against the need for booster shots as countries like the United States have pushed forward and opened the third and fourth doses to a growing number of people.
In the United States, certain mRNA vaccine recipients and all Johnson & Johnson recipients have been approved to receive boosters at least six months and at least two months after their last shot, respectively.
Children ages 5 to 11 were also eligible for the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month, and the Biden administration has said the United States has enough doses for all 28 million in that age group to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, other countries are struggling to get high-risk populations their first shot. To achieve the WHO goal of vaccinating 40 percent of the population in each country by the end of 2021, the world needs an additional 550 million doses, Tedros said.
Progress has been made through the COVAX program, led by Gavi, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, which has shipped nearly 500 million doses to 144 countries and territories.
As of Thursday, at least 40 percent of the total global population is considered fully vaccinated – but that figure includes only 2.4 percent in low-income countries, according to A campaign.
Secretary of State Antony BlinkAntony BlinkenBlinken takes on the first trip to Africa, as the top US diplomat Ukrainian diplomat warns that Russia may be looking to ‘move further’ into the country. US begins first joint naval exercise with Israel, UAE, Bahrain MORE announced Wednesday that the United States is working with COVAX to issue single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to those living in conflict zones. The United States has committed more than 1 billion doses as donations.
But at the same time, the pressure is mounting on the administration to approve booster shots for the remaining U.S. adult population, as breakthrough cases have become more prevalent in the midst of the highly transferable delta variant.
Nevertheless, studies have repeatedly shown that the risk of hospitalization and death is much lower among those who received the first vaccine than among the unvaccinated. Recent research suggests that boosters further increase this protection.