WHO Says Booster Shots Can Help in Pandemic if Distribution Is Fair

GENEVA (Reuters) – Vaccine booster shots can play a role in curbing the spread of COVID-19 as long as people most in need of protection also get access to jabs, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

“It’s a question of prioritisation. The order matters. Giving boosters to groups at low risk of severe disease or death simply endangers the lives of those at high risk who are still waiting for their primary doses because of supply constraints,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing.

“On the other hand, giving additional doses to people at high risk can save more lives than giving primary doses to those at low risk,” he added.

He noted that the emergence of the Omicron variant had prompted some countries to roll out COVID-19 booster programmes for their entire adult populations even while researchers lack evidence for the effectiveness of boosters against this variant.

Tedros said 77 countries had now reported cases of Omicron, “and the reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet. Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” he said.

The WHO was concerned that people were dismissing Omicron as mild.

“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he said.

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