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'No country can boost its way out': WHO warns booster programs 'likely to prolong' pandemic

The WHO encouraged boosters only for the elderly or immunocompromised and stated that the remaining vaccines should go to "lower income countries."

Booster Shots WHO
About 20% of all vaccine doses administered daily are given as boosters. | From un.org

December 23, 2021 3:11am

Updated: December 23, 2021 5:21pm

The World Health Organization advised against "blanket" COVID-19 booster programs Monday, warning they could "prolong the pandemic." 

"No country can boost its way out of the pandemic," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference Wednesday.

The global health group issued interim guidance discouraging booster vaccines for most individuals. Instead, the WHO encouraged boosters only for the elderly or immunocompromised and stated that the remaining vaccines should go to "lower income countries."

With holiday celebrations occurring across the globe, Tedros said that "boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations, without the need for other precautions."

About 20% of all vaccine doses administered daily are given as boosters. 

"Blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate," Tedros said.

The WHO's goal is for all 194 member states to have at least 40% of their population vaccinated by the end of 2021, with 70% vaccinated by mid-2022. Only half of all member states have reached 40%. 

"It's important to remember that the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not un-boosted people," Tedros emphasized, adding that the vaccines are effective against Omicron and Delta variants. 

Globally, 3.5 million people died from COVID in 2021, according to the WHO.

The White House has been encouraging Americans to get boosted against COVID-19, while Israel is now the first nation to offer fourth doses of the vaccine. 

By contrast, in Africa 3 out of 4 healthcare workers are unvaccinated, which the WHO attributes to inequity.