COVID-19 vaccine: WHO chief urges wealthy nations to suspend booster roll-out

WHO Chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus


World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on wealthy nations to suspend plans to provide booster shots to their citizens, so that supplies could be shifted to those countries experiencing major spikes in infection.

Ghebreyesus, who made the call on Wednesday, at a press briefing on COVID-19, said international efforts to slow the COVID-19 Delta variant had been hampered and more funds were required to fight its spread.

He said it had been hampered by its particularly virulent nature, which had led to hot spots of hospitalisations and deaths throughout regions with low vaccination levels and limited public health measures.

The director-general insisted that there were solutions to the challenge, such as the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. “However, this plan urgently needs an additional one billion dollars.

“Similarly, a $7.7 billion dollars appeal has been launched to scale up the ACT-Accelerator initiative, which is providing testing, treatments, vaccines and protective equipment for health workers, along with enhanced research and development into the next generation of health tools.’’

In response to plans by some countries to provide booster jabs, he issued a reminder that only 75 per cent of all vaccine supply had gone to just 10 countries and that low-income countries have only vaccinated around two per cent of their populations.

Given the huge inequity, the top WHO official called for a temporary moratorium on boosters, while the WHO convened health experts to debate the available data on the efficacy of boosters, with the priority focusing on providing first shots, and protecting the most vulnerable.

“The divide between the haves and have nots will only grow larger,” he declared, “if manufacturers and leaders prioritise booster shots over supply to low- and middle-income countries.

The UN Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted the WHO chief as saying that in an interconnected world, in which the COVID-19 virus was mutating quickly, national leaders needed to commit to vaccine equity and global solidarity, to save lives and slow down variants.

“Vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity,” he added, “and if we don’t tackle it together, we will prolong the acute stage of this pandemic for years when it could be over in a matter of months”.

Meanwhile, in remarks to the press, at the weekly Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) COVID-19 briefing, Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the UN regional agency, said that over the past week, 1.4 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 20,000 deaths had been reported in the Americas.

Etienne singled out North America and Mexico as regions of particular concern, with cases in the U.S increasing by more than a third, and Canadian cases by more than half.

In Mexico, more than two-thirds of states have been deemed at “high” or “critical” risk, as hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients.

The Caribbean region is also seeing a rise in infections and deaths: in Jamaica cases rose by 49 per cent and deaths increased by 70 per cent, while steep rises are being reported in Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Despite these figures, just one-in-five people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 across the Latin America and Caribbean region, and in some countries fewer than five per cent of people have been fully vaccinated.