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WHO Calls For Pause On Booster Shots Until More Nations Get Their First Vaccines

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

There are now more than 200 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide. And yet vaccination efforts around the globe continue to struggle. Today, the World Health Organization called for a moratorium on COVID boosters for at least the next two months. The WHO says people who are fully immunized should hold off on getting a third shot while so many people in the world are still waiting for their first. More than 80% of all COVID vaccines given so far have been administered in upper-income nations. NPR's Jason Beaubien has more.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: In the United Kingdom, 65% of people are vaccinated versus just 7% in the Philippines. In the U.S., teenagers at low risk from COVID are getting immunized, while high-risk health care workers in Nigeria are still waiting for their shots. And in a trend that's troubling to the WHO, Israel has just started offering third doses of Pfizer to people over 60, while less than 12% of Palestinians have gotten any vaccine at all. Today, the director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called for a halt, at least temporarily, to COVID booster shots.

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: We should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world's most vulnerable people remain unprotected.

BEAUBIEN: The WHO says some immunocompromised people may need boosters, but studies haven't yet proven that booster shots would add significant protection right now to the general public. White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the WHO's calls for a booster moratorium. Psaki says the U.S. has enough vaccine to both offer boosters at home and donate doses abroad.

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JEN PSAKI: We will have enough supply to ensure - if the FDA decides that boosters are recommended for a portion of the population, to provide those as well. We believe we can do both, and we don't need to make that choice.

BEAUBIEN: Yet the delta variant has shown how quickly this pandemic can change and drive up cases, even in countries with high vaccination rates. Ruth Karron, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins, says from a public health perspective, getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible is more important right now than boosters.

RUTH KARRON: New variants are most likely to arise in unvaccinated populations. So the more of the world that's unvaccinated, the more we are all at risk.

BEAUBIEN: Even if you look at this issue solely from a U.S. perspective, she says, it's in the best interest of the U.S. to boost immunity levels globally as much as possible.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.