“Appalled” by rich countries hogging vaccines, WHO extends booster moratorium

A serious man in a suit appears frustrated.

Enlarge / World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Coffrini)

The director-general for the World Health Organization on Wednesday called for a longer moratorium on high-income countries administering COVID-19 booster shots—extending the agency’s requested moratorium from the end of September to at least the end of 2021.

The call is likely to raise more scientific and ethical questions on the need and timing for boosters as many high-income countries are already beginning or at least planning to roll them out. In the US, the Biden administration said it is prepared to offer third doses the week of September 20. However, the decision has already drawn criticism from US experts who say the medical need for third doses is not yet clear, and the decision to offer them overstepped review by the Food and Drug Administration and expert advisers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cons of boosting

The WHO maintains that, so far, clinical evidence does not indicate that booster doses are needed to prevent severe outcomes and death from COVID-19, a point that US officials do not dispute. “The vaccines are holding up very, very well against the severe end of the disease spectrum,” Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, said in a press briefing Wednesday. “We’re not asking to withhold something for which there is a strong set of evidence that it is needed.”

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