With arrival of Omicron variant, countries step up booster dose

Vaccine inequities across the world are likely to widen further with the arrival of the new Omicron variant. While several countries are rushing to speed up the administration of the 3rd doses of COVID-19 vaccine to their populations, many other regions are still struggling to obtain supplies to immunize theirs.

Every day, six times more booster doses are given in the world than first doses in low-income countries, denounced Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO on November 12.

According to data from Our World In Data compiled by the University of Oxford, 245 million third doses have already been administered worldwide. However, around 40 countries have still not adequately vaccinated more than 10% of their population. Among them, five countries – Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Haiti and Guinea-Bissau – have not even reached 1% of the population fully immune (two doses).

Four of the five countries with the lowest vaccination coverage are therefore from Africa. Only 7% of the population of the African continent is adequately vaccinated. With 4% of the population partially immune to the virus, Africa has a vaccination coverage of 11%, still far from the other continents, which have all reached an overall coverage of more than 60%.

WHO discourages countries from extending these additional doses to the entire population, since every third dose is potentially someone else’s first dose. Even if the UN health agency has called for a moratorium on third doses by the end of the year, around sixty countries are still administering them.

In the UK, the government announced on Monday that the third dose will be offered to all 18-year-olds, in an effort to strengthen the protection of the public against the new variant of interest. More than 18 million booster doses have been administered there so far, or 26 doses per 100 inhabitants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also now recommends an additional booster shot for all Americans over 18. The recommendation initially targeted people over 50 and those deemed to be more vulnerable.

“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further underscores the importance of the vaccination, booster shots and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” wrote the director of the principal Federal public health agency, Rochelle Walensky, in a CDC statement.

The United States has already injected 41 million booster doses (12 booster doses per 100 inhabitants). However, far ahead of the Americans, Israel (44 booster doses per 100 inhabitants), Chile (44) and Iceland (40), to name a few, have prioritized a massive campaign of third doses for their populations. Europe is the most advanced continent so far, with 9 booster doses per 100 inhabitants.

Last month, the WHO took a stand on vaccine inequities that continued to widen. “It makes no sense to give booster doses to healthy adults, or to immunize children, while health workers, the elderly and other high-risk groups around the world are still waiting for their first dose. The only exception, as we said, is for people who are immunocompromised, ”said the director.

“It is a scandal that must end immediately,” he added in his speech.

In Canada, just under 1.2 million 3rd doses have been administered to date. Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends booster shots for people who have received two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca, adults over the age of 70, frontline healthcare workers who have had a short interval between their first two doses, as well as to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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