‘Vaccine Nationalism’: WHO Calls for Two-Month Pause on Booster Shots to Help Poor Nations Inoculate
The US has bought 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine shots, enough to vaccinate its entire population more than twice, and promised to export another 500 million over the next year. However, many of the world’s poorest nations, dependent on shots donated to the World Health Organization, have paused their campaigns as supplies dwindled.
As the US and several other countries begin offering third “booster” shots of COVID-19 vaccines to some of their most vulnerable citizens, the WHO is renewing its pleas for those nations, which are among the world’s wealthiest, to instead use those shots to help people in the world’s poorer nations to get their first round of vaccinations first.
“Vaccine injustice and vaccine nationalism” is allowing new COVID-19 variants to emerge, causing more deaths and prolonging the pandemic for the entire planet, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Budapest on Monday.
“Some countries are administering booster doses to people who are already fully vaccinated, while many people in the poorest countries are yet to receive a single dose, including health workers, older people and other vulnerable groups,” the WHO chief said in separate remarks to Hungarian officials.
“That’s why I have called for a global moratorium on booster vaccines until at least the end of September, to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up.”
He added that vaccine equity isn’t just ethically right or economically smart, “it is in every country’s own best interests.”
“The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity the virus has to spread and evolve into even more dangerous variants, which could evade the vaccines we have, prolonging the pandemic and the economic and social disruption it brings,” he added.
Tedros urged “countries with the most financial and geopolitical muscle” to step up and close the gap, as “most of the world’s poor have been left behind” by their extensive vaccination procurement and concentration on vaccinating their own citizens first.
He noted that of the 4.8 billion vaccine doses administered globally, 75% have been used by just 10 countries.
© AP Photo / Themba HadebeThoko Hlongwane, receives the first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a health staff member during a vaccination day at a vaccination centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Monday, May 17, 2021.
Thoko Hlongwane, receives the first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a health staff member during a vaccination day at a vaccination centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Monday, May 17, 2021.
© AP Photo / Themba Hadebe
While nearly half of those shots have been used in the People’s Republic of China, a middle-income nation that houses nearly one-fifth of humanity, the country has also exported more than 770 million shots to many of the world’s poorest nations, including most of the countries in Africa, and expects to export another 1.5 billion before the end of 2021.
The WHO’s target is for every nation to have at least 10% of its population vaccinated by the end of next month and to reach 40% before the year is out, with a further goal of 70% of the world’s population by the middle of 2022. Tedros said that a little over half of the world’s nations have reached the 10% goal.
US President Joe Biden announced last week that plans to offer a third shot to some of the first recipients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the US would proceed beginning on September 20. The administration is also recommending that Americans receive a third shot eight months after receiving their second dose, in order to boost their immune response and better protect against the Delta variant, which is driving the second-largest explosion of infections in the US thus far.
However, even within the US, vaccination has been highly unequal, with the affluent northeast and west coast having far higher coverage than the poorer states of the South and Great Plains, the latter of which have been the centers of infection driving the nationwide outbreak that began in late June.
Tedros began his push for the booster pause when the Biden administration first announced its plans earlier this month, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the suggestion as “a false choice,” saying the White House believes “we can do both.”
Other countries offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots or preparing plans to offer them soon to some people include Israel, the UK, Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and China.