WHO calls for extension of moratorium on Covid-19 booster shots till year end

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 09 (APP): The World Health Organization (WHO), a Geneva-based UN agency, has called for an extension of a global moratorium on coronavirus booster doses, so as to enable  every country to vaccinate at least 40 percent of its population.

“A month ago, I called for a global moratorium on booster doses at least until the end of September, to prioritize vaccinating the most at-risk people around the world who are yet to receive their first dose,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

“There has been little change in the global situation since then, so today I am calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year, to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 percent of its population,” he added.

Tedros acknowledged that third doses might be necessary for at-risk groups, but said: “We do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated.”

In early August, WHO called for such a moratorium as countries had been deliberating whether there’s a need for a booster jab against the fast-spreading Delta variant of the Covid-19.

Tedros, the WHO chief, also said he was “appalled” after hearing comments Tuesday from a top association of pharmaceutical manufacturers that vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both booster shots for people in well-supplied countries and first jabs in poorer countries that face shortages. He said that’s already been the case.

“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,” he told a news conference. “Because manufacturers have prioritized or been legally obliged to fulfill bilateral deals with rich countries willing to pay top dollar, low income countries have been deprived of the tools to protect their people.”

However, the latest forecast from COVAX, the WHO-led international Covid-19 vaccine campaign, has pointed to a 25 percent reduction in the number of doses going through COVAX if without urgent action from G20 countries and vaccine manufacturers, according to Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the WHO director-general, at the briefing.

“We are in a situation where there’s an incredible outcry across the world about the huge equity gap on vaccines that’s only gotten worse since May,” he said.

According to WHO’s statistics, globally 5.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered, but 80 percent have been administered in high- and upper-middle income countries. Even though high-income countries have promised to donate more than one billion doses, less than 15 percent of those doses have materialized.

“We don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines,” Tedros said.

He reiterated that third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, but for now, “we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated.” He vowed not to stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers.

During the G20 Health Ministers’ Meeting in Rome earlier this week, the WHO head requested countries to meet global vaccination targets by swapping near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX, fulfilling dose-sharing pledges by the end of September, and facilitating the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing.