The head of the World Health Organization says he opposes “widespread use of boosters” for healthy people, for now, underscoring the need to get doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries.
The comment came as France became one of the first large European Union countries to start administering booster shots of COVID vaccine to people over 65 on Wednesday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency witnessed the first decline in new global cases in more than two months last week.
“This is obviously very welcome but it doesn’t mean much,” since many countries are still seeing steep increases and “shocking inequities” in access to vaccines, he said in Berlin.
Tedros called for a moratorium on booster shots at least until the end of September “to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up”.
"Third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there is evidence of waning immunity against severe disease and death.”
He cites the “very small group” of immunocompromised people who didn’t respond sufficiently to their original shots or are no longer producing antibodies.
“But for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated," he said.
Tedros' remarks somewhat contrasted with comments made by Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe. In an interview with Euronews on Tuesday, he recommended that vulnerable Europeans be given a booster shot
"In those countries where we see that people with decreased immunity, the elderly people, have a waning immunity against severe disease, then those countries can consider a third dose," Kluge said.
"But we should do it all, meaning sharing doses with those countries which still didn't vaccinate fully health care workers, and at the same time look at the evolving evidence," he added.
France, UK offers booster shots
France began giving booster jabs of COVID-19 vaccines to those over the age of 65 and people with underlying health conditions on Wednesday, providing a minimum of six months has passed since they got fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab can get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna at least four weeks after they first got vaccinated.
France's health ministry said about 18 million people are estimated to be eligible for the booster shot.
Immunocompromised people in England will be offered a third coronavirus vaccine, the UK Health Secretary announced Wednesday.
Sajid Javid said the government was following the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and would offer anyone aged 12 or over with a weakened immune system a third dose.
Javid stressed that the shots are not equivalent to booster jabs for healthy vaccinated people, but instead are part of the primary vaccination schedule for immunocompromised people.
The Health Secretary said the vaccine booster programme "remains on track" to start later this month.