The World Health Organization called Wednesday for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
Israel, Russia and Hungary have already started providing third booster doses to wide swaths of their populations, while Germany and France have announced they will do so starting September 1. Other nations, including the United States and Britain, are considering plans to do so in the wake of the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
At a press conference, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant,” Tedros 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. We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week. That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros. “To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. WHO has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world.
Israel began administering COVID vaccine booster doses to the immunosuppressed last month, and rolled them out to all Israelis over age 60 on Sunday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has urged the elderly population to make appointments to receive a third dose in order to better protect themselves.
“The booster, the third vaccine, simply ‘reloads’ the body’s defenses and allows us to save lives,” Bennett said on Tuesday as he accompanied his mother, Myrna, to receive her third dose. “I ask everyone — children, grandchildren and parents: Go and get vaccinated. Vaccinate a third time whoever is over age 60… The more we vaccinate, the more we protect our mothers and fathers and also safeguard an open Israel.”
Israel reportedly over the weekend tossed 80,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID vaccine that expired on July 31.