WHO Official: Rich Countries 'Will Look Back in Shame' for Not Donating Vaccines

World Health Organization officials are speaking out against rich countries moving to administer COVID-19 booster shots instead of donating the vaccines to developing countries, warning the wealthier countries may feel "shame" one day.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO's emergencies chief, said that if rich countries decide on administering the third doses instead of giving them to countries in need of first and second doses, "we will look back in anger and I think we will look back in shame."

"This is people who want to have their cake and eat it," he said. "Then they make some more cake and they want to eat that as well."

Ryan said he was disappointed by the refusal of rich countries to share vaccines with poor countries in addition to the failure to increase manufacturing capacity.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Dr Michael Ryan
WHO Health Emergencies Program Director Michael Ryan says rich countries will "look back in shame" should they choose to use vaccines for boosters rather than donating to developing countries. Here, Ryan and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attend a press briefing on March 11, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Top officials at the World Health Organization say there's not enough evidence to show that third doses of coronavirus vaccines are needed and appealed Monday for the scarce shots to be shared with poor countries who have yet to immunize their people instead of being used by rich countries as boosters.

At a press briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world's grotesque vaccine disparity was driven by "greed," as he called on drugmakers to prioritize supplying their COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries instead of lobbying rich countries to use even more doses. His plea comes just as pharmaceutical companies are seeking authorization for third doses to be used as boosters in some Western countries, including the U.S.

"We are making conscious choices right now not to protect those in need," Tedros said, adding the immediate priority must be to vaccinate people who have yet to receive a single dose.

He called on Pfizer and Moderna to "go all out to supply COVAX, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, and low and middle-income countries with very little coverage," referring to the U.N.-backed initiative to distribute vaccines globally.

After a 10-week drop in global coronavirus deaths, Tedros said the number of COVID-19 patients dying daily is again beginning to climb and that the extremely infectious delta variant is "driving catastrophic waves of cases."

Both Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to supply small amounts of their vaccines to COVAX, but the vast majority of their doses have been reserved by rich countries. The U.N.-backed effort has faltered badly in recent months, with nearly 60 poor countries stalled in their vaccination efforts and their biggest vaccine supplier unable to share any doses until the end of the year.

Pfizer is meeting with top U.S. officials on Monday to discuss its request for federal authorization for a third booster dose. Last week, the company said a third dose could dramatically boost immunity and perhaps help ward off worrisome variants.

Britain is also considering a possible booster vaccination plan in the fall, which would likely target those over 50 and the most vulnerable.

But WHO's top experts disputed the need for a booster in fully immunized people.

"At this point...there is no scientific evidence to suggest that boosters are definitely needed," said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO's chief scientist. Swaminathan said WHO would make recommendations on booster doses if they were needed, but that any such advice "has to be based on the science and data, not on individual companies declaring that the vaccines should now be administered as a booster dose."

Some experts called the idea of booster shots "morally repugnant," given the explosive spread of COVID-19 now being seen in some African countries.

Tom Hart, acting CEO of the ONE campaign, an advocacy group, noted that just 1 percent of people in poor countries have received even one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

"The idea that a healthy, vaccinated person can get a booster shot before a nurse or grandmother in South Africa can get a single jab is outrageous," he said.

J&J Vaccine Afghanistan
Top officials at WHO said July 12 there isn't enough evidence to show that third doses of coronavirus vaccines are needed and appealed for shots to be shared with poor countries. In this July 11, 2021, file photo, a doctor fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Kabul, Afghanistan. Rahmat Gul, File/AP Photo