As the number of individuals who received a Covid-19 vaccine in the global North grew exponentially in the Spring and Summer of 2021, researchers began discussing the need for fully vaccinated people to get a booster shot for full protection. The Director-General of the World Health Organization has different priorities.
In the last months of 2020, months into a global pandemic which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, the first vaccines against Covid-19 received emergency authorization.
In the global North, rollout began immediately, albeit among logistical issues and many controversies. By the end of the Spring of 2021 the vaccinated in the United States (US) and in the European Union (EU) approached 50% of the eligible population. By July, talks of a booster shot to increase the coverage of the vaccine and the duration of the immunization it provides, began producing concrete timelines, with mass rollout set to begin in September.
The situation in poorer countries was, and remains, quite different. Bigger, richer countries began purchasing millions of doses even before the final approval was given by the agencies tasked with determining their effectiveness and security. This frenzy to them made it even harder for smaller and poorer countries to purchase the amounts they needed to ensure satisfactory degrees of immunization.
As a consequence, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched Covax, a global initiative that would allow richer countries to share surplus Covid vaccine doses with poorer countries who have limited access to the market. Despite these efforts, however, the divide is still staggering: according to data reported by the New York Times, Europe leads the way in vaccine rollout, having administered 103 doses per 100 people, while Africa is last with 9.2 doses per 100 people.
This is why, when the US and the EU announced their intention to make booster shots available to all fully vaccinated individuals, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, deeply criticized the stance. His position, shared by Dr. John Nkengagasong, the Director of Africa’s C.D.C, is that booster shots for the global North will not make a difference in the overall struggle of the world against the coronavirus. They argue that pushing for a faster and more systematic rollout in poorer countries will make everyone much safer and will slow the spread of the virus.
The Biden Administration and Western European governments appear unwavering in their support for booster shots, which could be available as early as next week, and people are eager to be able to enhance their own protection. They argue that offering booster shots at home will not hinge on their ability to participate in Covax. Will they? We are all in this together, and we need to stick together to come out on the other side.