The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to hold off on giving COVID-19 booster shots through September so poorer nations can provide citizens with their first dose of the vaccine.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that some low-income countries, including many in Africa, have less than 2 percent of their adult populations fully vaccinated.
By contrast, some high-income countries have adult vaccination rates of 50 percent.
More than 5 billion COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered globally, with 75 percent of them administered in just 10 countries, according to the WHO.
The United States has fully vaccinated more than 52 percent of its population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
President Joe Biden said the United States plans to widely distribute COVID-19 booster shots beginning the week of Sept. 20, pending clearance from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC scientists.
“That’s why I have called for a moratorium on boosters, at least until the end of this month to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up,” Tedros said at a press conference on Sept. 1.
While additional doses may be required for those with compromised immune systems or waning immunity, Tedros said that “for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated.”
The WHO director-general’s comments are in stark contrast to those of Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, who last week said he was “certain” Americans would need booster shots of the vaccines.
“I’m certain we’re going to need that third dose, looking at the data that we’re seeing,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Fauci said the White House is still planning to move ahead with its plans to give out the boosters eight months after people received their second shot, noting that in mid to late July, they saw a “waning in protection against infection.”
However, the chief medical adviser said they were “totally open to data” that suggests the dose should be available sooner and would “be flexible about it.”
“Right now, we’re sticking with eight [months], but we’re totally open to any variation in that based on the data,” Fauci said.
Other WHO officials have previously defended booster vaccinations in wealthier nations, including Hans Kluge, the WHO European regional director.
During a press briefing last month, Kluge said that booster shots serve as “an important instrument” to protect vulnerable people and keep them safe, while urging countries with excess doses to share them with other nations.
“A third dose of vaccine is not a luxury booster taken away from someone who is still waiting for a first jab. But it’s basically a way to keep the people safe—the most vulnerable,” Kluge said. “But at the same time, we need to share. We need to do it all.”
Pharmaceutical companies with COVID-19 vaccines already developed, such as Pfizer, have requested full FDA approval for a booster shot in addition to their two-dose vaccine.
The company said that 306 people given a third dose of its vaccine between five and eight months after their second shot showed levels of neutralizing antibodies that were 3.3 times the levels seen after their second shot.
With reporting from Reuters.