Top scientists at the World Health Organization said current data do not indicate that Covid-19 booster shots are widely needed even as the US prepares to offer mRNA booster jabs next month.
“We believe clearly that the data today does not indicate that boosters are needed,” Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said on Wednesday.
The remarks came just before the US announced it is readying to begin offering third doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA Covid-19 vaccines next month amid a wave of new cases tied to the Delta coronavirus variant. The booster jabs are subject to formal approval by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Food and Drug Administration.
Swaminathan said the science supports the need for a booster jab in immunocompromised people, but said that if high-income countries began to administer a booster jab more broadly to their over 50 populations, they would require close to 1bn doses.
“As countries start making choices about how they vaccinate other countries will follow those choices, and the problem that we end up with is we lose that solidarity of working as a global community, which is absolutely crucial to getting out of a pandemic,” Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser, said.
The current surge in cases is being propelled by unvaccinated people and WHO scientists stressed that the priority is to get vaccines to billions of people in low- and low-middle income countries that are struggling to secure supply before moving on to people who are already vaccinated.
“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,” Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said. “That’s the reality.”
Swaminathan cautioned that giving out booster shots in developed countries while leaving poorer nations unvaccinated “will only lead to more variants, more escaped variants and perhaps we are heading into even more dire situations”.