Geneva: The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged the rich countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines to refrain from offering booster shots through the end of the year and make the doses available for poorer countries.
"I will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world's poor should be satisfied with leftovers," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists.
Speaking from WHO's headquarters in Geneva, Tedros urged wealthy countries and vaccine makers to prioritise getting the first jabs to health workers and vulnerable populations in poorer nations over boosters.
"We do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated," he said.
Tedros also said that he was "appalled" after hearing comments Tuesday from a top association of pharmaceutical manufacturers that vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both booster shots for people in well-supplied countries and first jabs in poorer countries that face shortages. He said that's already been the case.
The WHO called last month for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
But Tedros acknowledged Wednesday that there had "been little change in the global situations since then.
"So today I am calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year," he said.
High-income countries had promised to donate more than one billion vaccine doses to poorer countries, he said -- "but less than 15 per cent of those doses have materialised.
"We don't want any more promises," he said. "We just want the vaccines."
Despite the call for a moratorium, some countries have been arguing for booster jabs not only for vulnerable people but also for the wider population, citing signs of waning vaccine effectiveness against the highly transmissive Delta variant.
The WHO has acknowledged that an additional dose could be needed for immunocompromised people but stresses that for healthy people, the vaccines still seem very effective, especially in preventing severe disease.
"There is not a compelling case to move forward with a generalised recommendation for booster doses," Kate O'Brien, the WHO's vaccines chief, told Wednesday's news conference.