WHO Director Criticizes 'Vaccine Nationalism,' Again Asks Countries to Forgo Booster Shots

The director-general of the World Health Organization on Monday called for a two-month delay on distributing booster shots for COVID-19 vaccines to curtail vaccine inequity and block the development of new virus variants, the Associated Press reported.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said while speaking to reporters in Budapest, Hungary, that he was "really disappointed" with the global distribution of vaccines as poorer countries are unable to provide many with even one dose and wealthier countries are preparing to roll out booster shots.

The U.S., Israel and Hungary, as well as some nations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, are among those preparing to offer or already offering booster shots, AP reported. Ghebreyesus requested that the countries looking to administer third doses of the vaccine instead "share what can be used for boosters with other countries so [they] can increase their first and second vaccination coverage."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

WHO Head Requests Booster Moratorium
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called for a two-month moratorium on COVID booster shots as many people in poorer countries have yet to receive their first. Ghebreyesus talks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on March 11, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

In early August, Hungary became the first country in the 27-member European Union to allow residents to sign up for a third dose, and more than 187,000 people have received a booster so far, according to government statistics.

Last week, health officials in the United States announced plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans in an effort to shore up protection against a surge in cases attributed to the Delta variant and signs that the vaccines' effectiveness is slipping.

Yet the United Nations health agency has repeatedly called for rich nations to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world. On Monday, Tedros said that of the 4.8 billion vaccine doses delivered to date globally, 75 percent have gone to only 10 countries, while vaccine coverage in Africa is at less than 2 percent.

"Vaccine injustice and vaccine nationalism" increase the risk of more contagious variants emerging, Tedros said.

"The virus will get the chance to circulate in countries with low vaccination coverage, and the Delta variant could evolve to become more virulent, and at the same time more potent variants could also emerge," he said.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told the news conference that Hungary has 8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in storage, and that the Central European country has donated more than 1.5 million doses to other countries.

Tedros thanked Hungary for making those donations, adding that "we hope that you will do more, because no one is safe until everyone is safe."

Booster Shot Administered in Israel
The World Health Organization director called for a two-month delay on COVID-19 booster shot rollout to curtail vaccine inequity and the emergence of new variants. An Israeli health worker administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine to a man, at the Maccabi Health Service in Jerusalem on August 20. Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images