US disputes WHO call to delay Covid booster shots to help poorer nations
The United States has disputed calls by the UN health agency to delay Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, as poorer countries battle with severe supply shortages and rising outbreaks of the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said halting booster shots until at least the end of September would help ease the drastic inequity in vaccine distribution between rich and poor nations.
That, they said, would help fight a pandemic that has killed more than 4.25 million people worldwide.
“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,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The WHO said the moratorium would help towards the goal of vaccinating at least 10% of every country’s population by the end of September.
Washington has not yet announced a booster vaccination plan. But the White House appeared to reject the WHO’s call, arguing it could deliver doses to Americans and support global vaccination efforts.
“We definitely feel that it’s a false choice and we can do both,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, adding that the US has donated more doses than any other country. “Also in this country [we] have enough supply to ensure that every American has access to a vaccine,” she added.
It is the latest appeal from the UN health agency for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world.
Tedros said richer countries had administered about 100 doses of coronavirus vaccines for every 100 people on average, while low-income countries — hampered by short supplies — have provided only about 1.5 doses per 100 people.
Israel, France, Germany and many Middle Eastern countries have already started administering boosters, and other nations, including the US and Britain, are considering plans to do so in the wake of the emergence of the highly-transmissible Delta variant.
Dr Katherine O’Brien, the WHO’s vaccines chief, noted that while a “very limited number” of countries were giving booster doses, a larger number were contemplating it.
“The evidence is evolving. It’s moving. We don’t have a full set of evidence around whether this is needed or not,” O’Brien said, adding that the main message was that “we need instead to focus on those people who are most vulnerable.”
The WHO has long argued that no one is safe until everyone is safe because 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 UN health agency reiterated calls for global “solidarity” to help battle the coronavirus pandemic and appealed to wealthy countries and corporations to help.
“We need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines,” Tedros said, appealing in particular to the influential Group of 20 large economies.
“The G20 has a vital leadership role to play as the countries that are the biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of Covid-19 vaccines.”
With Agence France-Presse and Associated Press