Even though less than half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, those who have gotten their shots are already thinking about getting a third. As concerns about the highly infectious Delta variant and breakthrough case numbers grow, some people already looking at the possibility of a COVID booster shot. In Israel, boosters have just started being administered to anyone over the age of 60, and in the U.S., San Francisco hospitals are offering an additional shot of Pfizer or Moderna to people who initially received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is was calling for a moratorium on COVID booster shots for awhile for a very important reason.
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On Aug. 4, the WHO called for a pause on COVID boosters for at least two months, saying lower income countries need to be able to give out initial vaccine doses before other, more affluent countries move on to third doses. “We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high income countries, to the majority going to low income countries,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference on Wednesday.
The agency is recommending that no one receive a booster shot until at least the end of September, in order to allow every country in the world a chance to vaccinate at least 10 percent of its population first. According to Tedros, four billion vaccine doses have been administered globally so far, but more than 80 percent of these doses have gone to high- and upper-middle-income countries, which is less than half of the world’s population.
“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.”
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Bruce Aylward, MD, the WHO director-general’s senior advisor, said that the moratorium is part of Tedros’ plan to vaccinate 40 percent of the entire world by December.
According to the WHO, more mutated strains—which could be even more infectious than the Delta variant—will continue to emerge and become a risk to all countries unless more of the world’s population is vaccinated. “The entire world is in the middle of this and as we’ve seen with the emergence of variant after variant, we cannot get out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together,” Aylward said at the press conference, via CNBC. “With the huge disparity in vaccination coverage, we’re simply not going to be able to achieve that.”
Aylward added, “The big picture here is as a policy not to be moving forward with boosters until we get the whole world at a point where the older populations, people with comorbidities, people who are working at the frontlines, are all protected to the degree possible with vaccines.”
According to Aylward, the moratorium will be revisited in September and it’s possible that the WHO will extend it. “Is September long enough? Not on the current trajectory,” Aylward said.
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