WHO reiterates warning against Covid boosters for healthy people as U.S. weighs wide distribution of third shots

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva Switzerland July 3, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini | Reuters

World Health Organization officials repeated their protests Tuesday against Covid-19 booster shots for the general public, even as the U.S. readies this week to authorize their distribution across a wide swath of America.

The WHO strongly opposes the widespread rollout of booster shots, asking that wealthier nations instead give extra doses to countries with minimal vaccination rates. The U.S. has already administered nearly 2 million boosters nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended boosters on Friday for anyone 65 and older.

“What WHO is arguing is that booster doses in the general population, who had wide access to vaccines, who have already been vaccinated, is not the best bet right now,” Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a live Q&A aired Tuesday on the organization’s social media channels.

Ryan reiterated the WHO’s support for third doses administered to the elderly, medically vulnerable people and anyone needing an immune system boost after a full Covid vaccine regimen. He reiterated the organization’s calls for a moratorium on booster doses through the end of the year to give nations enough time to immunize at least 40% of their populations against Covid.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sept. 14 that most countries with under 2% vaccination coverage are in Africa, where less than 3.5% of the continent’s eligible population is fully inoculated against Covid. Africa will likely miss the WHO’s target of a 10% vaccination rate by the end of the year, Tedros added.

But in the U.S., where almost 55% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, the FDA is expected to issue formal guidance on Pfizer’s boosters before the CDC holds its two-day meeting on the shots on Wednesday and Thursday.

An FDA advisory committee rejected a proposal Friday to recommend boosters for all Americans over 16, citing concerns over insufficient data and the potential for myocarditis. The group, instead, narrowed that plan, endorsing third doses to people 65 as well as over and other medically vulnerable people.

World leaders further discussed the global vaccination effort at a meeting Tuesday of the 76th United Nations General Assembly. President Joe Biden will hold a Covid summit Wednesday to encourage international dignitaries to help improve global vaccine distribution, noting to the General Assembly that the U.S. had donated over 160 million Covid vaccine doses to the cause.

“It’s a real moment of truth,” Ryan said. “We, as a world, are getting another chance, chances we haven’t taken before, to focus on vaccine equity.”

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