A senior World Health Organization (WHO) official reiterated the organization’s criticism against wealthy nations planning for COVID-19 booster shots, arguing that those nations should be working on producing and donating vaccine doses to poorer countries.
“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 lifejacket,” said Mike Ryan, the director of the WHO’s health emergency program, on Wednesday as the Biden administration announced that it would work to provide booster shots by Sept. 20.
The African director of WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, also made a critical comment on Thursday, although she didn’t specifically refer to the United States.
“Moves by some countries globally to introduce booster shots threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa,” she said at a news conference. “As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.”
And WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who previously called for a global moratorium on booster shots, doubled down on Wednesday.
“What is clear is that it’s critical to get first shots into arms and protect the most vulnerable before boosters are rolled out,” he said. “The divide between the haves and have nots will only grow larger if manufacturers and leaders prioritize booster shots oversupply to low- and middle-income countries.”
President Joe Biden on Thursday said that both he and his wife, Jill Biden, plan to get booster shots when they are available. Earlier in the day, the heads of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health, and the Surgeon General said they recommend the third shots, though the FDA and CDC haven’t approved them and have not fully approved any COVID-19 vaccine.
In an ABC News interview, Biden, who is also facing an unfolding military related crisis in Afghanistan, defended his administration’s choice to offer the additional shot in the near future.
“We’re providing more to the rest of the world than all the rest of the world combined,” Biden said. “We’re keeping our part of the bargain.”
Earlier, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy downplayed concerns the United States was providing a booster shot in lieu of producing and donating vaccines for poorer nations. He said that both the booster shots and donations can be done simultaneously.
Murthy and other federal health officials said that several recent studies showed that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ efficacy rate against the Delta variant has dropped in recent months, saying that people who got their second dose eight months ago qualify for a booster shot.
Inside the United States, some health experts said the White House’s announcement on Wednesday is unethical and premature.