By Robin Gomes
The United Nations health agency on Wednesday appealed for a moratorium of at least 2 months on booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine, in order to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people in poor countries - who are still awaiting their first dose - can be inoculated.
Vaccinating 10% of population off track
The WHO has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world. During his weekly press conference, Tedros recalled that in late May he had appealed for “global support for a sprint to September”, in order enable countries to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of their population by the end of September. Now, more than halfway to the target date, he regretted “we are not on track”. When he issued the challenge, high-income countries had administered 50 doses for every 100 people. Today, high-income countries have administered almost 100 doses for every 100 people, while low-income countries for every have managed only 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply.
The haves and have-nots
A major effort in a fair distribution of vaccines has been the establishment of the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) programme by the WHO and its international partners, to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people. The WHO has been urging wealthier countries to donate their excess doses to COVAX, so that no one would be left behind in the fight against the virus.
“We should not accept countries that have used most of the global supply of vaccines using more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros said. “Even as hundreds of millions of people are still waiting for their first dose, some rich countries are moving towards booster doses,” he lamented. He pointed out that of the more than 4 billion vaccine doses administered globally, more than 80 per cent have gone to high-end upper middle-income countries, who account for less than half the world’s population.
WHO has argued that no one is safe until everyone is safe. The longer and more widely the coronavirus circulates, the greater the chance that new variants could emerge and prolong a global crisis in fighting the pandemic. The agency has no power to require countries to act, and many in the past have ignored its appeals.
Israel, France, Germany and many Middle Eastern countries have already started administering boosters, and 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. Dr. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to Tedros, said the moratorium was about an appeal to countries considering booster doses to “put a hold” on such policies “until and unless we get the rest of the world caught up" in the fight against the pandemic.
Tedros appealed for “an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries”. “Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until, at least, the end of September, to enable at least 10 per cent of the population of every country to be vaccinated”, Tedros said.
His call was particularly directed to a handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines. In this regard, he said, the G20 countries have a vital role to play, as they are “biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of the Covid-19 vaccines”. “It is no understatement to say that the course of the pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20 countries”, he stressed. “We call on everyone with influence, Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community, to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September”, Tedros added.