Germany, France, Malta and Israel will go ahead with plans to administer COVID-19 vaccine boosters, ignoring an appeal by the World Health Organisation to hold off until more people are vaccinated around the world.
The decision to press ahead with booster shots despite the WHO’s strongest statement yet highlights the huge inequities in responses to the pandemic as wealthier countries ramp up programs to protect citizens from the more infectious Delta variant.
French President Emmanuel Macron said France was working on rolling out third doses to the elderly and vulnerable from September.
Germany intends to give boosters to immunocompromised patients, the very elderly and nursing home residents from September, the health ministry said.
Malta will start giving a booster shot of the vaccine to vulnerable people in mid-September, the health minister said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged older citizens to get a third shot after the government kicked off a campaign in July to give booster doses.
“Whoever is over the age of 60, and has yet to receive the third dose of the vaccine, is six times more susceptible to severe illness and – heaven forbid – death,” Mr Bennett said in a statement.
On Wednesday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a halt to boosters until at least the end of September, saying it was unacceptable for rich countries to use more of the global vaccine supply.
High-income countries administered about 50 doses for every 100 people in May, and that number has since doubled, according to the WHO.
Low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people due to lack of supplies.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” Dr Tedros said.
Germany rejected those accusations, saying it would also donate at least 30 million vaccine doses to poorer countries.
“We want to provide the vulnerable groups in Germany with a precautionary third vaccination and at the same time support the vaccination of as many people in the world as possible,” the health ministry said.
Following Dr Tedros’ comments, the White House said on Wednesday it was prepared to provide booster shots if needed, suggesting it would not heed the WHO’s call either.
Pfizer has said boosters are most likely needed because of waning antibody responses, particularly after six months.
US health regulators have said that more scientific evidence is necessary to be certain boosters are needed but have indicated they believe a third shot may be needed for people with compromised immune systems.
Mr Macron’s government is trying to step up France’s vaccination program as the country faces a fourth wave of the virus and street demonstrations in protest against the government’s COVID-19 policies.
France and Germany have so far given at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 64.5 per cent and 62 per cent of their respective populations, with 49 per cent of the French and 53 per cent of Germans fully vaccinated.
Malta has vaccinated 86 per cent of its population and is currently inoculating children aged between 12 and 16.