Amid Omicron Fears, WHO Cautions Wealthy Countries Against Vaccine Hoarding

This comes after Pfizer announced that a booster dose would offer more protection from the Omicron variant.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, 9 December, cautioned wealthy countries against the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines in response to the new Omicron variant, reported AFP.

WHO Vaccine Director Dr Kate O’Brien urged wealthy nations to continue donating their additional vaccine supplies and shipments to underserved countries to bridge the vaccine inequity gap.

"As we head into whatever the Omicron situation is going to be, there is a risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccines," Dr O’Brien was quoted in AFP.

This comes close on the heels of studies published by vaccine manufacturer Pfizer, which showed that its vaccine produced fewer antibodies against Omicron, and that this deficit could be reversed by the use of a booster shot.


In its press release dated 8 December, Pfizer had stated, "A more robust protection may be achieved by a third dose as data from additional studies of the companies indicate that a booster with the current COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech increases the antibody titers 25-fold. According to the companies’ preliminary data, a third dose provides a similar level of neutralising antibodies to Omicron as is observed after two doses against wild-type and other variants that emerged before Omicron."

According to the AFP report, Dr O’Brien stated that "additional doses have the benefit to provide added protection against Omicron", while emphasising that it was still "very early days".

US Authorises Booster Doses for Teens

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on 9 December, had recommended 16 and 17-year-olds to get a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months after taking the first two doses.

"Although we don't have all the answers on the Omicron variant, initial data suggests that COVID-19 boosters help broaden and strengthen protection against Omicron and other variants," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had said in a statement.

"We know that Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and I strongly encourage adolescents of ages 16 and 17 to get their booster if they are at least six months post their initial Pfizer vaccination series."
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky

On 19 November, the FDA had authorised the use of a single booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for all individuals of 18 years of age and older after the completion of primary vaccination with any FDA-authorised or approved COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC's latest move has expanded the age group eligible for the booster dose.

Vaccine Haves and Have-Nots

More than 80 percent of the world's vaccines have gone to G20 countries. Low-income countries – most of them in Africa – have received just 0.6 per cent of all vaccines, according to an Associate Press report.

According to the report, countries like Canada have procured more than 10 doses for every resident compared to Africa, where under 7 percent of its population is vaccinated.

Spearheading the global vaccine delivery movement is the UN, backed by COVAX, which has already let go of its goal to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

According to the AP report, COVAX has averaged just over 4 million doses since the beginning of October, with the count on some days dropping below 1 million doses.

The biggest supplier of vaccines to COVAX is India’s Serum Institute, which manufactures the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot. As COVID cases exploded during the second wave, the Indian government had restricted exports of vaccines to other countries, and had only lifted the ban earlier in November.

According to a Reuters report, SII was commissioned to supply up to 550 million doses of AstraZeneca Covishied shot to COVAX, but has also managed to supply 37 million doses so far.

(With inputs from AFP, AP, IANS, Reuters)

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