US calls for booster shots against Covid-19, WHO says vaccinate vulnerable first

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NEW YORK/GENEVA: Amid the surging delta variant of the novel coronavirus and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling, the United States health officials on Wednesday recommended all Americans get Covid-19 booster shots to shore up their protection.
This, however, is not in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of vaccinating the most vulnerable people fully worldwide before deploying “a top-up” by high-income countries. Its COVAX scheme, co-led by CEPI and Gavi, calls for global equitable access to a vaccine.
Moments before the US government said it planned to make the booster shots widely available to all Americans starting September 20, the WHO on Wednesday said that current data does not indicate that Covid-19 booster shots are needed.
The US top authorities, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have outlined a plan calling for an extra dose eight months after receiving the second shot of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. This means the doses could begin from September 20.
The health officials also recommended the extra shot for those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson, but they said they are awaiting more data and have yet to work out a plan.
The plan, however, is still awaiting an evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose by Food and Drug Administration, the officials said.
In a statement, health officials said it is “very clear” that the vaccines’ protection against infection wanes over time, and now, with the highly contagious delta variant spreading rapidly, “we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease”.
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death could diminish in the months ahead,” they said.
But the WHO said that the most vulnerable people worldwide should be fully vaccinated before high-income countries deploy a top-up.
“We believe clearly that the data today does not indicate that boosters are needed,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a Geneva news conference when asked about the need for extra shots to increase protection against the disease.
She said further research was needed, and warned that leaving billions of people in the developing world unvaccinated could foster the emergence of new variants and result in “even more dire situations.”
Referring to the booster shots being administered in high-income countries, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward told reporters that there is enough vaccine around the world, but it is not going to the right places in the right order.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 cases are now averaging nearly 140,000 per day, quadrupling in just a month.
But some experts have expressed concern that calling for boosters would undermine the public health message — and reinforce opposition to the vaccine — by raising more doubts in the minds of people who have been skeptical about the shots’ effectiveness.
In making the announcement on boosters, the CDC released three studies conducted during the delta surge that suggest that the Covid-19 vaccines remain highly effective at keeping Americans out of the hospital but that their ability to prevent infection is dropping markedly among nursing home patients and others.
(With inputs from agencies)

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