WHO warns that repeated booster shots are not sustainable
The World Health Organization is calling on vaccine manufacturers to future-proof Covid shots rather than focus on rolling out regular boosters.
The agency’s Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC) released a report this week saying it is unsustainable to roll out Covid boosters on a regular basis.
It puts the WHO in direct opposition to Pfizer, whose CEO Albert Bourla earlier this week said Covid could exist for the next decade but will be controlled by regular booster shots produced by the company.
Pfizer is the leading vaccine manufacturer for the US and many countries around the world. The company has raised millions of dollars from vaccine purchase contracts since the shots first became available in December 2020.
The continued use of booster shots to keep Covid in check could prove necessary and would definitely lead to a major financial windfall for the New York-based company.
The World Health Organization is calling on vaccine manufacturers to work to develop more sustainable, stronger vaccines that will be effective against future Covid variants. The agency’s TAG-CO-VAC working group does not find it feasible to regularly distribute booster shots. Pictured: A man in Los Angeles, California, receives an injection of a COVID-19 vaccine on January 7
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (pictured) said earlier this week that regular Covid booster shots will likely be needed to get the virus under control over the next decade
With the short and medium term delivery of available vaccines, the need for equal access to vaccines in all countries to achieve global public health goals, programmatic considerations including vaccine demand, and the evolution of the virus, a vaccination strategy based on repeated booster Doses of the original vaccine composition are unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” TAG-CO-VAC wrote.
The current crop of vaccines has been considered safe and effective by health officials, but the protection afforded by the injections diminishes over time.
Even before the rise of the vaccine-evasive Omicron Covid variant, health officials in the US, Israel and many European countries performed booster shots to fill gaps in vaccine protection that develop over time.
In the US, a person who is six months away from receiving the Pfizer vaccine, five months from the Moderna, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot is recommended to receive a booster dose.
WHO working group says future vaccines: ‘should be based on strains that are genetically and antigenically close to the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant(s)’
“in addition to protecting against serious illness and death, be more effective in protecting against infection, reducing community transmission and the need for rigorous and far-reaching public health and societal measures
‘elicit immune responses that are broad, strong and long-lasting to reduce the need for successive booster doses.’
The rise of Omicron has only increased the demand for booster shots. First discovered by South African health officials in November, the variant is the most mutated strain to date, and the more than 30 mutations on its spike protein allow it to evade vaccine antibodies that protect against infection.
It is also the most contagious strain of the virus to date, pushing cases in the US to record levels. As on Wednesday, that US has an average of 786,000 new cases per day, the most since the virus first arrived in March 2020.
Studies show that booster shots restore much of that protection against infection. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech also plan to roll out a custom booster from Omicron by the end of March.
Bourla said earlier this week that regular use of booster shots would be key to contain the pandemic going forward.
“We’ll have a completely normal life, with maybe an injection only once a year,” he told CNBC on Monday, noting that these regular injections may take up to 10 years.
The WHO has long been critical of the introduction of booster doses in high-income countries like the US and UK, as other countries struggle to vaccinate their populations.
For example, while the US has a stockpile of unused vaccines, only about 15 percent of the African continent’s population has received at least one dose of the shots.
In August, before Omicron’s discovery, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a two-month moratorium on booster shots, hoping that developing countries would instead donate additional doses to countries with limited access to the drug. shots.
The WHO has long been a critic of the rollout of booster shots. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called in August for a moratorium on the distribution of the additional injections, warning that a more contagious, vaccine-avoiding strain would eventually emerge if more people in the developing world were denied access to the drug. injections. Months later, the Omicron variant was discovered by South African health officials
Only about 15% of Africans have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, by far the lowest on any continent. Pictured: A man in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, receives an injection of a COVID-19 vaccine
“Vaccine injustice and vaccine nationalism” increase the risk of more infectious variants emerging, Tedros said in August, adding that eventually a variant like Omicron would emerge.
“The virus will have the opportunity to circulate in countries with low vaccination coverage, and the delta variant could evolve to become more virulent, while also developing more potent variants.”
Many of these countries not only do not have the same access to the injections as the developed world, but they also do not have the necessary resources to run robust vaccination campaigns.
Therefore, TAG-CO-VAC is urging Pfizer and other manufacturers to use existing knowledge about Omicron and other virus strains to develop vaccines that last longer and have properties that would make them resistant to future variants.