August 8, 2022

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The world will face a shortfall of 3bn Covid-19 vaccine shots early next year if...

The world will face a shortfall of 3bn Covid-19 vaccine shots early next year if richer nations “aggressively” boost adults and open up immunisation to children, further hindering the rollout of jabs in poorer nations, the World Health Organization has warned.
In an effort to outpace Omicron, the coronavirus variant of concern first identified in southern Africa last month, wealthier nations have begun boosting at scale. But only about 7 per cent of people living in low-income countries have received at least one dose of any shot. And 98 countries — about half of those globally — have not reached the WHO target of immunising 40 per cent of their populations.
“There is a scenario where very aggressive consumption of doses by high- coverage countries to conduct paediatric vaccination and provide booster doses to all citizens . . . could lead to a constrained supply situation for the first half of 2022,” said Tania Cernuschi, the WHO’s technical lead for global vaccine strategy. “The gap in the first quarter of 2022 could be of about 3bn.”

“Clearly, if there’s also stockpiling of doses in the face of uncertainties [on Omicron and vaccine efficacy] then this could further exacerbate the situation,” she told the Financial Times. “It’s a scenario that is possible with the impressive growth in the number of booster and paediatric programmes.”
About 120 countries have started booster programmes, she said, and 30 are vaccinating children.
Early data show boosters of the BioNTech/Pfizer shot could heighten protection against the Omicron variant. Preliminary evidence also suggests two shots of a number of vaccines could still protect against severe disease, although there is no consensus yet among scientists.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, said on Tuesday that indiscriminate boosting without substantial evidence to underpin it would “repeat the vaccine hoarding we saw this year and exacerbate inequity”.

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The UK’s aim to offer all over 18s a booster shot by the end of the year has led to long waiting times for people who want to get jabbed © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

For now, the WHO recommends administering a third dose of any WHO-approved vaccine to those who are immunocompromised. It has also recommended a booster for recipients of the Chinese vaccines who are older than 60, where supplies so allow. It has said vaccines should be used alongside public health measures, such as the use of masks, for the greatest effect.
The UK has said it would aim to offer a booster jab to everyone aged over 18 by the end of the year, with a minimum gap of three months between shots — a shorter lag than in other nations. Other high-income countries, including the US and some EU member states, have also widened their booster rollouts.

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If richer countries all widen their booster programmes to all citizens, the WHO’s Cernuschi said, supply would continue to be “very, very tight” in the second quarter. But she stressed that the WHO estimated that supply would “continue growing” over the next few months at a fast pace and improve in the second half of next year.
She added that most scenarios envisaged by the health body, for example ones in which it would become necessary to boost high-risk populations, would still see supply keep up with demand from early next year.
Inequality in the global distribution of jabs has become so stark that some observers have dubbed the disparity “vaccine apartheid”. The WHO earlier this year called on countries to forgo boosters to help redress imbalances in global coverage but rich countries have largely ignored that plea.
Global health authorities have long warned that high transmission, coupled with uneven vaccine coverage, could hasten the emergence of more troublesome strains.

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