Pfizer pushes for booster shots as WHO says greed is driving vaccine disparities
After a sharp increase in US Covid cases and amid fears of a surge of the Delta variant, Pfizer on Monday said it was seeking federal authorisation for third doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to be delivered as booster shots.
However, World Health Organization officials insisted there was not enough evidence to show that third doses are needed, and said Pfizer should concentrate instead on improving vaccine access around the world.
The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said grotesque vaccine disparities were driven by “greed”.
“We are making conscious choices right now not to protect those in need,” he said, adding that people who have yet to receive a single dose should be prioritised and calling on Pfizer and Moderna to “go all out to supply Covax, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and low- and middle-income countries”.
Tedros warned that the number of Covid patients dying was beginning to climb and that the extremely infectious Delta variant was “driving catastrophic waves of cases”.
In the US, confirmed cases rose 47% to 136,351 in the week to Sunday, the largest weekly rise since April 2020, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The death toll was 1,629.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief WHO scientist, said: “At this point … there is no scientific evidence to suggest that boosters are definitely needed.”
Swaminathan said the WHO would make recommendations on booster shots “based on the science and data, not on individual companies declaring that the vaccines should now be administered as a booster dose”.
Dr Michael Ryan, the WHO emergencies chief, suggested that if rich countries decide to administer booster shots rather than to donate them to the developing world, “we will look back in anger and I think we will look back in shame.”
While vaccine manufacturers have agreed to supply limited quantities to the Covax initiative partly run by the WHO, global access remains highly unbalanced, with wealthy western nations taking the vast majority of shots even as take-up rates drop and the Delta variant spreads.
More than 3.41bn doses have been administered across 180 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg, with 334m doses administered in the US.
On Sunday Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Joe Biden, said he did not rule out the possibility of recommending a third shot. Fauci also deplored what he described as “ideological rigidity” stopping people from getting shots.
“It is almost inexplicable why people, when they see the data in front of them, that they don’t get vaccinated,” Fauci told CBS.
Nearly 50% of the US population is fully vaccinated, but in some areas, such as parts of rural Mississippi, barely a quarter of the population has received even a single shot. The Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, acknowledged on Sunday that vaccine resistance in southern and rural states were based on their “more conservative approach, skepticism about government”.
In the US on Monday, the New York Times reported that the federal Food and Drug Administration will add a warning to shipments of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, saying it can lead to low but increased risk of Guillain–Barré syndrome, a very rare neurological condition.