The World Health Organization on Wednesday condemned the rush by rich countries to provide COVID vaccine boosters, when millions of people around the world have yet to receive a single dose.
Speaking before U.S. officials announced that all vaccinated Americans would soon be eligible for additional doses, WHO experts insisted there was not enough scientific evidence that reminders were needed.
Providing them while so many people were still waiting to be vaccinated was immoral, they argued.
“We plan to distribute additional life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we let others drown without a single life jacket,” the emergency director of the WHO, Mike Ryan, speaking from UN agency headquarters in Geneva. .
“The basic ethical reality is that we are handing out life jackets while leaving millions and millions of people with nothing to protect them. “
Earlier this month, the WHO called for a moratorium on booster injections of the Covid vaccine to help alleviate the drastic inequality in the distribution of doses between rich and poor countries.
That hasn’t stopped a number of countries from moving forward with plans to add a third jab, as they struggle to thwart the Delta variant.
– First ‘critical’ hit –
U.S. officials, warning that the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccination worsened over time, said on Wednesday that they had authorized vaccine boosters for all Americans starting September 20. They will start eight months after an individual has been fully vaccinated.
While vaccines remain “remarkably effective” in reducing the risk of serious illness, officials said, hospitalizations and deaths from the effects of Covid, protection could wane in the coming months without enhanced vaccination.
Washington had already authorized an additional dose for people with weakened immune systems.
Israel has also started giving third doses to Israelis aged 50 and over.
But WHO experts insisted the science was still on the boosters and stressed that it is much more important to ensure that people in low-income countries where immunizations are late receive vaccines.
“What is clear is that it is essential to fire the first shots and protect the most vulnerable before the deployment of boosters,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday in a statement. press conference.
“The gap between the haves and have-nots will only widen if manufacturers and policymakers prioritize booster injections over sourcing low and middle income countries,” he said. .
– “Shame on all mankind” –
Tedros expressed outrage at reports that the single-dose J&J vaccine currently being finalized in South Africa was being shipped for use in Europe “where virtually all adults have been offered vaccines at this point”.
“We urge J&J to urgently prioritize the distribution of their vaccines in Africa before considering supplies to rich countries that already have sufficient access,” he said.
“The injustice of vaccines is a disgrace to all mankind and if we do not tackle it together we will prolong the acute phase of this pandemic for years when it could be over in a matter of months. “
South African NGOs have denounced the shipments from South Africa as “vaccine apartheid” when less than two percent of the 1.3 billion Africans have been fully immunized so far.
“Millions of doses” produced there have been exported since March to Europe and the United States, several NGOs said in a statement on Tuesday.
“J&J are complicit in vaccine apartheid, diverting doses from those who really need them to the richest countries on the planet,” Fatima Hassan, from the South African NGO Health Justice Initiative, told AFP. .
“It’s colonialist extraction, plain and simple,” Hassan said.
Doses are assembled and packaged in South Africa by pharmaceutical giant Aspen in Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth.
“Global vaccine allocation is currently not done by public health officials but rather by a handful of business leaders, who consistently prioritize Europeans and North Americans over Africans,” he said. said Dr Matthew Kavanagh of the Health Law Institute at Georgetown University.
© 2021 AFP