Countries pressing ahead with booster shot plans despite WHO plea

Israel, Germany and France will go ahead with COVID-19 vaccine boosters from September, disregarding an appeal by the World Health Organization (WHO) to hold off until more people are vaccinated across the globe.

The decision to press ahead with booster shots despite the strongest statement yet from the WHO highlights the challenge of dealing with a global pandemic while countries try to protect their own citizens from the more infectious delta variant.

President Emmanuel Macron said France was working on rolling out third COVID-19 vaccine doses to the elderly and vulnerable from September.

“A third dose will likely be necessary, not for everyone straightaway, but in any case for the most vulnerable and the most elderly,” Macron said on his Instagram account.

Germany intends to give boosters to immunocompromised patients, the very elderly and nursing home residents from September, the health ministry said.

WATCH | WHO calls for booster moratorium:

The World Health Organization is urging wealthy countries to stop administering COVID-19 vaccine booster doses until the end of September to allow those shots to be diverted to countries that don’t have enough vaccines. (Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra) 0:59

On Wednesday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a halt to vaccine boosters until at least the end of September, saying it was unacceptable for rich countries to use more of the global supply of shots, as many developing countries have barely started vaccinating their populations.

Tedros said the goal was to enable at least 10 per cent of the population of every country to have the chance at getting a vaccine.

High-income countries administered around 50 doses for every 100 people in May, and that number has since doubled, according to WHO. Low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply.

“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” Tedros said.

Germany points to contributions in global vaccine push

Germany rejected those accusations, saying it would also donate at least 30 million vaccine doses to poorer countries.

“We want to provide the vulnerable groups in Germany with a precautionary third vaccination and at the same time support the vaccination of as many people in the world as possible,” the health ministry said.

Macron’s government is trying to step up France’s vaccination program as the country faces a fourth wave of the virus and street protests against the government’s COVID policies.

France and Germany have so far given at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 64.5 per cent and 62 per cent of their respective populations, with 49 per cent of the French and 53 per cent of Germans fully vaccinated.

Seeking emergency authorization

Israel last month said it would offer a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to people over 60, becoming the first country in the world to mobilize for booster shots in the face of the highly contagious delta variant. Israel has yet to respond officially to the WHO’s plea.

In an online discussion with the public and journalists, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel’s drive to give third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people over 60 would provide vital information to the world on combating the delta variant. Israel, with a population of 9.3 million, is a small country whose vaccine use “doesn’t really affect the world supply significantly,” he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is shown at a media availability in Haifa on Tuesday, as his mother Mirna received a third COVID-19 vaccine dose. (Elad Gershgoren/Reuters)

Pfizer, citing data from Israel on infections among the vaccinated, has said it believes people need the additional dose of its shot to keep protection against the coronavirus robust, as immunity may wane from original shots after several months.

Pfizer has said it plans to soon apply to U.S. and European regulators for emergency authorization of booster shots.

The U.S. is working to give additional COVID-19 booster shots to Americans with compromised immune systems as quickly as possible, top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday at a briefing.

Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said at the same news conference that ultimately the timing of a U.S. decision on boosters would be determined by a “compilation of evidence,” including data on neutralizing antibodies, clinical trial studies, and the tracking of those vaccinated, particularly those who received shots earliest in the mass inoculation drive.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that as a practical matter the U.S. would be able to administer boosters as well as donate excess supplies to other countries to address vaccine inequities.

“We feel that it’s a false choice and we can do both,” she said.

Health officials with the Canadian government have said they are monitoring the developments globally, but that there’s no indication booster shots are yet needed for any Canadians.

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