August 5, 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid-19 booster shots

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    President Joe Biden's administration is working on a recommendation that certain immunocompromised people receive Covid-19 booster shots, people familiar with the matter told Axios. This news comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for a worldwide moratorium on most booster shots until more people are vaccinated.

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    Biden administration considering recommendation for booster shots

    In certain immunocompromised people, data shows that while two shots of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna don't provide strong levels of protection against the coronavirus, a third shot could significantly improve that protection, Axios reports.

    According to a person familiar with internal discussions in the Biden administration, a recommendation that certain immunocompromised people receive a booster shot is likely to come "very soon." A senior official in the Biden administration also confirmed to Axios that a recommendation is likely to come soon, although no firm deadline has been established.

    According to Axios, officials are working through the regulatory steps involving FDA to make the recommendation, as well as determining which conditions will make people eligible for a booster shot.

    The Biden administration is "prepared if the FDA decides that they are going to recommend a booster," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. "That is why we ordered the number of doses we did order several months ago, because we are like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and always want to be prepared."

    WHO calls for worldwide moratorium on booster shots

    This news comes as WHO on Wednesday called for countries to hold off on administering booster shots until every country has at least 10% of its population fully vaccinated. However, WHO said the moratorium is specifically aimed at the broader use of booster shots and is not meant to include extra doses given to certain populations not fully protected through the normal regimen of a Covid-19 vaccine.

    According to Politico, several nations—including Israel, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and Germany—are currently offering booster shots to at-risk populations or have laid out plans to do so in the coming months.

    "I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said. "But we cannot, and we should not, accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccine using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected."

    In May, WHO called for every country to reach the 10% goal by September. But on Wednesday, Tedros said the world is not on track to meet that goal. "High-income countries have now administered almost 100 doses for every 100 people," he said. "Meanwhile, low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply."

    Tedros said health ministers worldwide should make "concrete commitments" to support WHO's goal, and that drugmakers should prioritize COVAX, WHO's program for equitable vaccine distribution.

    "We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries," he said.

    Kate O'Brien, WHO's director of immunizations, vaccines, and biologics, said it's not currently clear that booster shots are necessary. She also noted that administering booster shots too quickly could have significant consequences.

    "This is a really big discussion about administering third doses to people who've already been vaccinated. And it's incredibly important that we're clear about what the data [is], that the data [is] strong in supporting—or not supporting—whether or not those doses need to be administered," O'Brien said. "If we're not really grounded in that clarity, we're going to be in a place where we have forever uncertainty about what actually should be done." (Furlong, Politico, 8/4; Branswell, STAT News, 8/4; Weixel, The Hill, 8/4; Owens, Axios, 8/5)

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