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U.S. Ramps Up Covid Boosters as Poor Nations Await First Doses

todayOctober 22, 2021

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As the United States prepares to offer Covid booster shots to tens of millions of people, representatives of the World Health Organization continue to sound the alarm over the disparity in vaccine access globally, with the world’s poorest countries struggling to get even a first dose into their citizens’ arms.

Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who is now the W.H.O.’s ambassador for global health financing, said on Thursday that there was a shortfall of 500 million doses in the global South, while 240 million doses were lying unused in the West. The number of excess doses is projected to reach 600 million by the end of the year, Mr. Brown added.

Mr. Brown spoke on the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed booster shots of the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines for tens of millions in the United States.

In Africa, meanwhile, only nine countries had met a target of vaccinating 10 percent of their populations against Covid-19 by the end of September, the W.H.O. reported.

“Wealthy countries must let go of reserved doses and cede their place in the queue, allowing Covax and the African Union to buy the vaccines the continent seeks and stands ready to finance,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O. regional director for Africa, wrote in a Times guest essay last month, referring to the United Nations-backed program to inoculate the world against the coronavirus.

“Africa and other parts of the world need these vaccines. Now,” she added.

Mr. Brown called for military airlifts to help deliver unused doses to lower-income countries, particularly an estimated 100 million doses that had a use-by date before December and would otherwise end up being destroyed.

“We are talking about waste on a colossal scale if we don’t do something about this,” Mr. Brown said in an interview with BBC Newsnight on Thursday.

He and other health officials argue that low inoculation rates globally could undermine progress against the pandemic by creating room for the virus to mutate and spread.

“You can’t solve this problem without vaccinating the whole of the world, not half of the world,” Mr. Brown said.

The W.H.O. estimates that 11 billion Covid vaccine doses are needed worldwide to turn the tide of the pandemic, but so far production and distribution have been concentrated in Western countries.

What to Know About Covid-19 Booster Shots

The F.D.A. has authorized booster shots for millions of recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.

Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.

The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.

Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.

Last month Covax slashed its forecast for the number of doses it expected this year, further undercutting a program that has been beleaguered by production problems, export bans and vaccine hoarding by wealthy nations.

According to government figures collated by the University of Oxford’s World in Data project, about 77 percent of shots administered worldwide have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Only about 0.5 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries. Africa is the region with the lowest inoculation rate, with less than 8 percent of the population vaccinated.

The Biden administration has said that it can provide boosters to tens of millions of Americans while also donating vaccines to poorer nations. On Thursday, the White House announced that it had delivered more than 200 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to more than 100 countries, the most from any country in the world, according to the State Department.

“Doing more than everyone else shouldn’t be the bar,” said Craig Spencer, ​​director of global health in emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s just not nearly enough.”

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