The WHO yesterday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change course immediately and prioritise less wealthy states.
The UN health agency has for months raged against the glaring and growing imbalance, branding it a moral outrage.
Israel last month began rolling out a booster shot for over-60s, while Germany said Tuesday it would start offering third doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines from September.
Tedros told a press conference that he understood why countries wanted to protect their citizens from the more transmissible Delta variant of the virus, which was first identified in India.
“But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” he said.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
The WHO wants every country to have vaccinated at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of the year, and 70% by the middle of 2022.
At least 4.27bn doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorised as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations were the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“The course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.
He urged vaccine producers to prioritise Covax, the global scheme which tries to secure vaccines for nations with less financial clout, which has shipped just 177mn doses so far.
While half the European Union population has been fully vaccinated, in Africa, that figure stands at less than 2%, said the WHO’s Covax frontman Bruce Aylward.
He said the booster moratorium would help to right the “extraordinary and increasing inequity,” adding that the end of September target would be missed on the current trajectory.
Aylward said the world is “simply not going to be able to achieve” getting out of the pandemic if high-coverage countries start using up the available doses for third or even fourth shots.
Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s vaccines chief, said there was no convincing picture yet as to whether booster doses were actually necessary, given the level of protection that the WHO-approved vaccines gave against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
“We don’t have a full set of evidence around whether this is needed or not,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s health ministry said Berlin was giving at least 30mn doses to Covax by the end of the year.
“We want to provide a third vaccination as a preventive measure to vulnerable people in Germany and at the same time provide our support for vaccination if possible of all populations in the world,” she said.
World body remains deeply concerned by Long Covid
With nearly 200mn people known to have had Covid-19, the WHO said yesterday it was deeply concerned by the unknown numbers who may still be suffering with Long Covid.
It urged people struggling with the after-effects of the virus — despite having recovered from the acute phase — to seek medical help.
Long Covid remains one of the most mysterious aspects of the pandemic.
“This post-Covid syndrome, or Long Covid, is something that WHO is deeply concerned about,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the UN health agency’s Covid-19 technical lead, told a press conference.
The WHO was “making sure that we have recognition of this, because this is real”.
She said of those infected with Sars-CoV-2 — the virus which causes Covid-19 disease — “many are suffering from long term effects”.
“We don’t know for how long these effects last and we’re even working on a case definition to better understand and describe what this post-Covid syndrome is,” said Van Kerkhove.
She said the WHO was working to have better rehabilitation programmes for Long Covid sufferers plus broader research to gain a better understanding of what the syndrome is and how it can be managed.
The WHO has held a series of seminars this year aimed at expanding understanding of post-Covid conditions, hearing not only from scientists and doctors but also directly from sufferers themselves.
Little is known about why some people, after coming through the acute phase, struggle to recover and suffer ongoing symptoms including shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and brain fog as well as cardiac and neurological disorders.
Janet Diaz, the clinical care lead in the WHO’s emergencies programme who leads the organisation’s Long Covid efforts, said there had been more than 200 reported symptoms.
They include chest pain, tingling and rashes, she told a WHO live social media session on Tuesday.
Diaz said some patients had symptoms that dragged on from the acute phase; others got better and then relapsed, with conditions that could come and go; while others had symptoms that only appeared after recovering from the acute phase.
Studies can only go back as far as the first patients to recover from Covid-19, which first emerged in China in December 2019.
Diaz said some people seemed to have post-Covid conditions for three months, and others up to six months.
“We are concerned there may be a small proportion that go on to nine months — and to longer than that,” said Diaz.
The US expert said it was not yet fully understood what caused the post-viral symptoms, with various hypotheses including neurological problems, the immune response to the infection, and the virus persisting in some organs.
Van Kerkhove said: “We advise anyone who is suffering from the long-term effects to seek help.”
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