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WHO Head Calls for Booster Moratorium  08/05 06:15

   

   GENEVA (AP) -- The head of the World Health Organization called Wednesday 
for a moratorium on administering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines as a way 
to help ensure that doses are available in countries where few people have 
received their first shots.

   WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the appeal mostly to 
wealthier countries that have far outpaced the developing world in numbers of 
vaccinations. He said richer countries have administered about 100 doses of 
coronavirus vaccines for every 100 people on average, while low-income 
countries -- hampered by short supplies -- have provided only about 1.5 doses 
per 100 people.

   WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots 
to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in 
preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

   The U.N. health agency has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more 
to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world. It has argued that 
no one is safe until everyone is safe because the longer and more widely the 
coronavirus circulates, the greater the chance that new variants could emerge 
-- and prolong a global crisis in fighting the pandemic.

   The agency has no power to require countries to act, and many in the past 
have ignored its appeals on issues like donating vaccines, limiting 
cross-border travel and taking steps to boost production of vaccines in 
developing countries.

   Tedros pointed to a WHO target he had announced in May seeking to ensure 
that 10% of the populations in all countries receive vaccines against the 
coronavirus.

   "Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the 
end of September to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to 
be vaccinated," he told a news conference.

   To help take the heat out of the pandemic, WHO has been focusing on getting 
vaccines to older adults, health care workers and other target populations in 
many countries before booster shot campaigns are carried out.

   Dr. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to Tedros, said the moratorium was 
about an appeal to countries considering booster doses to "put a hold" on such 
policies "until and unless we get the rest of the world caught up" in the fight 
against the pandemic.

   "As we've seen from the emergence of variant after variant, we cannot get 
out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together. And with the huge 
disparity in vaccination coverage, we're simply not going to be able to achieve 
that," Aylward said.

   Israel, France, Germany and many Middle Eastern countries have already 
started administering boosters, and other nations, including the United States 
and Britain, are considering plans to do so in the wake of the emergence of the 
highly transmissible delta variant.

   Dr. Katherine O'Brien, WHO's vaccines chief, noted that a "very limited 
number" of countries were giving booster doses though a larger number were 
contemplating it.

   "The evidence is evolving. It's moving. We don't have a full set of evidence 
around whether this is needed or not," O'Brien said, adding that the main 
message was that "we need instead to focus on those people who are most 
vulnerable."

   Asked about the WHO position, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called 
it a "false choice" and suggested the United States could both donate vaccines 
abroad and provide boosters at home.

   "We announced just yesterday that we hit an important milestone of over 110 
million vaccines donated to the world. That is more than any other country has 
shared combined," she said. "We also, in this country, have enough supply, to 
ensure that every American has access to a vaccine. We will have enough supply 
to ensure, if the FDA decides that boosters are recommended for a portion of 
the population, to provide those as well."

   WHO officials reiterated their call for global "solidarity" to help battle 
the coronavirus pandemic and appealed to wealthy countries and corporations to 
help.

   "We need everyone's cooperation, especially the handful of countries and 
companies that control the global supply of vaccines," Tedros said, appealing 
in particular to the influential Group of 20 large economies. "The G-20 has a 
vital leadership role to play as the countries that are the biggest producers, 
the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of COVID-19 vaccines."

   He urged the G-20, which currently is chaired by Italy, to make "concrete 
commitments to support global vaccination targets."

   "We call on everyone with influence -- Olympic athletes, investors, business 
leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community 
-- to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end 
of September," Tedros said.

 
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