Global Covid-19 vaccine distribution key concern for WHO experts as US presses on with plan for boosters

WHO’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Wednesday said that data indicated that booster shots were not needed.
The US government, earlier in the day, announced its plan to make available a booster shot for its people starting September 20.(AFP)
The US government, earlier in the day, announced its plan to make available a booster shot for its people starting September 20.(AFP)
Updated on Aug 18, 2021 11:05 PM IST
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Written by Srivatsan K C | Edited by Avik Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Even as the US continued on Wednesday to proceed with its plan for providing a booster Covid-19 vaccine shot, experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised concerns over the equal distribution of the jabs globally. The UN health agency has also pointed out that the current data available does not suggest that a top-up shot against the disease is needed.

The remarks came as the US government, earlier in the day, announced its plan to make available a booster shot for its people starting September 20 amid rising concerns due to the Delta variant of Covid-19. US officials have also warned that the protection offered by the vaccines waned over time, citing findings from recent assessments.

However, top scientists at the WHO have expressed their objection to this plan, noting that some poorer countries do not have enough shots for even the first dose. WHO’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Wednesday said data indicated that booster shots were not needed. “We believe clearly that the data does not indicate that boosters are needed,” the Associated Press quoted her as saying.

Also read | India gave 2L vaccines for UN peacekeepers: Jaishankar at tech platform launch

The chief scientist said that more research was needed regarding administering a booster shot. She further warned that the risk of newer variants of the disease emerging would increase if billions of people in the developing world were left unvaccinated. She also said that it could result in “even more dire situations.”

Notably, Dr Swaminathan also warned earlier in the day that globally a surge in Delta variant of Covid-19 was observed in regions with less coverage of vaccines.

Meanwhile, the executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme, Dr Michael Ryan, too, recorded his concerns regarding global vaccine distribution. “We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket,” he said.

Dr Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to WHO’s director-general on organizational change said “There is enough vaccine around the world, but it is not going to the right places in the right order.”

He added that two doses of the vaccine should first be given to the “most vulnerable” people worldwide before delivering booster shots to those who are already fully inoculated, pointing out “We are a long, long way from that.”

Further, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus too insisted on prioritising vaccine rollout globally before delivering boosters. “What is clear is that it's critical to get first shots into arms and protect the most vulnerable before boosters are rolled out,” he said.

In response to the WHO’s concerns, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the US is the biggest contributor to the global fight against the pandemic and will “continue to be the arsenal for vaccines.”

US surgeon general Vivek Murthy also outlined that they “clearly see our responsibility to both, and we've got to do everything we can to protect people here at home while recognizing that tamping down the epidemic across the world is going to be key.”

Last week, the US had announced its plan to provide a booster shot to people with weakened immune systems, which has now been expanded to include all people in the country. Earlier in the day, US officials, in a statement, said that people who were immunised with the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines would need a booster dose eight months after taking the second doses, while they were awaiting data regarding Johnson and Johson’s vaccine.

(With agency inputs)

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Saturday, October 23, 2021