Africa

Stop boosters now: WHO to rich countries on COVID-19 vaccines

Less than 1% of the population in Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, Somalia have been fully vaccinated due to supply shortage  

 
By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Thursday 05 August 2021
Stop COVID-19 vaccine boosters: WHO urges high-income countries

High-income countries should stop moving towards booster doses so that hundreds of millions in poorer countries can get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged August 4, 2021. 

A booster is taken in addition to the recommended doses so that the immunity from the vaccination is sustained. 

Over 80 per cent of the four billion vaccine doses administered worldwide have gone to middle- and high-income countries, according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO. 

“We cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” he added.

Vaccination rates remain abysmal in low-income countries where people have no choice but to go out to earn a livelihood. Only 1.85 per cent of the entire population of Africa has been fully vaccinated. 

Source: Our World in Data

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, less than 0.1 per cent of the citizens have received just the first dose of the vaccine. In Uganda, only 4,129 of the country’s population of 1,150,000 have been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, a data repository. 

Less than 1 per cent of the population in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Chad in Africa have been fully vaccinated. 

Vaccination rates in other low- and middle-income countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India was 0.05 per cent, 0.56 per cent, 0.76 per cent, 2.66 per cent and 7.77 per cent, respectively, for both the doses.

The United States of America, the European Union and other high-income economies such as the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Singapore, on the other hand, have vaccinated 49 per cent, 50 per cent, 71 per cent, 60 per cent and 61 per cent of their populations. 

The delta variant, which was first isolated in India, has spread widely in some of these countries and has reportedly caused reinfections and growth in serious cases requiring hospitalisations.

The popularity of booster doses in these places have, thus, picked up, especially with a growing body of research suggesting a drop in immunity after several weeks of vaccination. 

It is understandable that countries want to protect their citizens in these circumstances, but “we need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries”, the WHO chief said. 

He cited the case of a midwife from Uganda, Harriet Nayiga, who had shared in a January press conference held by WHO that she had not received her second vaccine dose. 

She had related how people in her country, including health workers, are dying in thousands. “COVID-19 is spreading, though people are now moving to work in order to earn a living, since the majority depend on hand-to-mouth,” he quoted her as saying.

The global health agency called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable every country to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of their population, Ghebreyesus added.

He urged the opinion leaders of the world, right from Olympic athletes, faith and business leaders, to support WHO’s appeal. 

The health ministers of the group of 20 biggest economies of the world should also commit to WHO’s COVID-19 immunisation targets ahead of the G20 summit, he added. Vaccine manufacturers should prioritise COVAX, a global collaboration to ensure ample production and equitable distribution of vaccine doses. 

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