The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on rich countries to donate their extra coronavirus vaccine doses to poor countries, rather than using them as boosters.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus slammed “greed” as the driver behind the world’s vaccine disparity.
Vaccine manufacturers are currently seeking authorisation for third doses to be used as boosters in some Western countries.
“We are making conscious choices right now not to protect those in need,” the WHO’s director-general said at a press briefing on Monday.
He insisted the immediate priority must be to vaccinate those who haven’t yet received a single jab.
While much of the western world has gotten to more than 50 percent of population having had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, countries in Africa and much of Asia are way behind.
One of the main vaccine producers, Pfizer, is meeting with US officials on Monday to discuss its request for authorisation for a third booster dose, which it claims could boost immunity.
But WHO experts dispute the need for a booster.
“At this point...there is no scientific evidence to suggest that boosters are definitely needed,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist. Swaminathan said WHO would make recommendations on booster doses if they were needed, but that any such advice “has to be based on the science and data, not on individual companies declaring that the vaccines should now be administered as a booster dose."
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO's emergencies chief, suggested that if rich countries decide to administer booster shots rather than donating them to the developing world, “we will look back in anger and I think we will look back in shame.”
He said the failure to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity, coupled with rich countries' refusal to share shots with poor countries, was extremely disappointing.
“This is people who want to have their cake and eat it," he said. "Then they make some more cake and they want to eat that as well.”
Instead of working to get booster jabs in rich countries, the manufacturers should be focusing on providing more doses to the COVAX scheme, the UN-backed programme to get vaccines to poor countries.
While both Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to supply small amounts of their vaccines to COVAX, the scheme has stalled recently due to a lack of doses.
Nearly 60 poor countries have stalled in their vaccination efforts with their biggest vaccine supplier unable to share any doses until the end of the year.
Some experts called the idea of booster shots “morally repugnant,” given the explosive spread of COVID-19 now being seen in some African countries.
Tom Hart, acting CEO of the ONE campaign, an advocacy group, noted that just 1 percent of people in poor countries have received even one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
"The idea that a healthy, vaccinated person can get a booster shot before a nurse or grandmother in South Africa can get a single jab is outrageous,” he said.