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WHO asks vaccine makers to prioritize doses for poor countries over booster shots

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a mask
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says COVID-19 vaccine makers should send doses to poor countries instead of pushing for booster shots in rich ones.
(Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via Associated Press)

The head of the World Health Organization called on drugmakers to prioritize supplying their COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries instead of lobbying rich nations to use even more doses, just as some pharmaceuticals are seeking authorization for a third dose to be used as a booster.

At a press briefing Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the massive disparity in vaccines between rich and poor countries means that “we are making conscious choices right now not to protect those in need.” He said the priority now must be to vaccinate people who have received no doses.

Tedros called on Pfizer and Moderna to “go all out to supply COVAX, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and low and middle income countries with very little coverage,” referring to the United Nations-backed initiative to distribute vaccines globally.

Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to supply small amounts of their vaccines to COVAX, but the vast majority of their doses have been reserved by rich countries.

Last week, Pfizer said it would seek authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying a booster shot could dramatically boost immunity and perhaps help ward off worrisome variants. The company said it was scheduled to have the meeting with the Food and Drug Administration and other officials Monday, days after Pfizer asserted that booster shots would be needed within 12 months.

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Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten said last week that early data from the company’s booster study suggest people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared with their second dose months earlier — evidence it believes supports the need for a booster.

If scientists discover that immunity to the coronavirus starts to wane months or years after vaccination, a booster shot could be deployed.

President Biden’s chief medical advisor has acknowledged that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that booster shots will be needed.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t rule out the possibility but said it was too soon for the government to recommend another shot. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA did the right thing last week by pushing back against Pfizer’s assertion with their statement that they did not view booster shots as necessary “at this time.”

Fauci said clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen.

“Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stop there.... There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”


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