GENEVA (AP) — An expert panel convened by the World Health Organization said Tuesday it “strongly supports urgent and broad access” to booster doses amid the global spread of omicron, in a reversal of the UN agency’s insistence last year that boosters were unnecessary and contributed to vaccine inequity.
In a statement, the WHO said its expert panel concluded that vaccination with licensed COVID-19 vaccines provides high levels of protection against serious illness and death amid the continued spread of the variant. extremely contagious omicron. The WHO said in January that boosters were recommended once countries had sufficient supplies and after protecting their most vulnerable.
He said vaccination, including the use of boosters, was particularly important for people at risk of serious illness.
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Last year, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a moratorium on booster doses as dozens of countries embarked on administering the doses, saying wealthy countries should immediately give these vaccines to poor countries instead. WHO scientists said at the time that they would continue to assess incoming data.
Many scientific studies have since proven that booster doses of licensed vaccines help restore waning immunity and protect against severe COVID-19. Booster programs in wealthy countries, including Britain, Canada and the United States, have been credited with preventing the spike in omicron infections from spreading to hospitals and cemeteries.
The WHO said it continues to monitor the global spread of omicron, including a “stealth” version known as BA.2, which has been documented to have reinfected some people after an initial case of omicron. There is mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear to be just as effective against it.
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The WHO noted that currently licensed COVID-19 vaccines are all based on the strain that was first detected in Wuhan, China more than three years ago.
“Since then, there has been continuous and substantial evolution of the virus and it is likely that this evolution will continue, leading to the emergence of new variants,” the agency said. He added that coronavirus vaccines would probably need to be updated.