WHO Calls for G20 Support for Moratorium on COVID Vaccine Boosters Until End of September
Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September to enable a minimum of 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated.

Making the appeal at the WHO’s COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday, Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus said support for the moratorium from the G20 countries was vital as they are “the biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of COVID-19 vaccines”.

Israel started to offer third booster shots to people over the age of 60 this week, while Germany and the UK intend to do so soon. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand already offer boosters to fully vaccinated people.

“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20 countries,” said Tedros, as he called on these countries to “make concrete commitments to support WHO’s global vaccination targets”.

Tedros called on “everyone with influence – Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders, and every individual in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September”.

Not enough evidence for boosters

WHO special adviser Dr Bruce Aylward described the moratorium as a call for “global solidarity around the goal of catching up with the rest of the world” with immunisation.

“The entire world is in the middle of this pandemic and, as we have seen from the emergence of variant after variant, we cannot get out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together,” added Aylward. “With the huge disparity in vaccination coverage, we’re simply not going to be able to achieve that. By now going into third, fourth doses or whatever in areas that already have high coverage, we just will not be able to catch up.”

However, Aylward said organ transplant recipients were an “exceptional case” and boosters could be considered to be part of their “primary series’ vaccinations as their level of immunity was still low after two doses.

Meanwhile, Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said that while a few countries had started to administer boosters, a number of others were contemplating this – despite the lack of evidence to support boosters.

“We don’t have a full set of evidence around whether this is needed or not,” said O’Brien.

“We need instead to focus on those people who are most vulnerable, most at risk of severe disease and death to get their first and second doses, and then we can move on to how to advance programmes as the evidence gets stronger, and as supply is assured and we have much higher coverage for those first doses in much greater percentages of populations in every country around the world.”

A number of trials are underway at present to test boosters, including Pfizer vaccines that have been tweaked to address the Delta variant.

Health Policy Watch has produced a three-part series on vaccine boosters looking at the global country positions on boosters, boosters in immuno-compromised people and the need for field-based evidence to balance laboratory evidence.

Dr Mariangelo Simao, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals

Pfizer, Moderna price increases are in response to ‘demand not costs’

Commenting on the news that both Pfizer and Moderna had increased their COVID-19 vaccine prices, Dr Mariangelo Simao, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Vaccines, said this appeared to be demand-driven rather than related to production costs.

“Both manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna have increased their manufacturing capacities. They have diversified manufacturing plants, and we understand that they have also increased efficiency in the production lines,” said Simao.

“This would, in a normal market situation, lead to a decrease in price not an increase in price. So what we have is clearly a market where the demand is very high in comparison with the production,” added Simao.

“The WHO urges companies to keep prices down. There are many countries around the world that cannot afford any higher price. It’s urgent that we think about this in terms of affordable pricing in times where there is increased manufacturing from those two mRNA, producers, and more efficient production lines as well.”

Over the weekend, the Financial Times reported that Pfizer had increased its price per shot from around $18.50 to $23, while Moderna doses had increased from around $22.60 to $25.50.

 

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