The World Health Organization on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, citing vaccine inequity around the world.
The agency said the moratorium should last at least two months, to give the world a chance to meet the director general’s goal of vaccinating 10% of the population of every country by the end of September.
“We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high income countries, to the majority going to low income countries,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The moratorium is part of the Ghebreyesus’ plan to vaccinate 40% of the world by December, according to his senior advisor, Dr. Bruce Aylward.
“The big picture here is as a policy not to be moving forward with boosters until we get the whole world at a point where the older populations, people with comorbidities, people who are working at the frontlines, are all protected to the degree possible with vaccines,” Aylward said.
The duration of the moratorium could be extended if vaccine rates in countries with low vaccination rates do not increase.
“Right now, if you look at how vaccines are being used globally, the uptake rate by high income countries, upper middle income countries, is absorbing too much of the global supply for the lowest income countries,” Aylward said.
The move comes after Israel announced the country would give booster doses to its elderly population.
Some people in the U.S. are also finding ways to secure booster shots.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital said Tuesday that they would allow patients who have received a shot of the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to receive a supplemental shot of a mRNA vaccine.
Vaccine giant Pfizer has maintained that people will need a booster shot, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the data warranting the need for booster doses remains unclear.
WHO officials also said beyond December, they hope to have 70% of the world vaccinated by the middle of 2022, “and that’s when we can really start focusing around the edges on just how high it needs to go beyond that,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, WHO director of the department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals.
Until that goal is met, global health officials hope that countries with high vaccination rates will comply with the moratorium request, and more importantly, the call to end vaccine inequity.
“We need a strategy of vaccines, and we need the public health and social measures at individual level and community level, we need everybody to step up right now,” WHO Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said.