Critics say U.S. booster shot rollout isn’t fair to countries lacking vaccines

“We need to really make sure that while we're having conversations about the booster, we're continuing to have conversations about the vaccine,” said Dr. Shamard Charles

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In the wake of the White House announcing that COVID-19 booster shots will be rolled out starting Aug. 20, critics are questioning whether it’s both morally and practically right to do so.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said people in need around the globe should receive vaccinations before the U.S. implements any plan to give out third shots.

According to Reuters, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, says although he supports immunocompromised people receiving a booster shot, under-vaccinated countries should be prioritized before boosters are rolled out to all.

Earlier this month, WHO called for a moratorium on boosters until the end of September.

“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a previous interview.

Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization attends a meetting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta – Pool/Getty Images)

“We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief.

Statistics from Our World Data shows that only 24.5 percent of people around the world are fully vaccinated, with only 1.4 percent of people in low-income countries having received one shot. Countries such as Haiti, Congo, and Chad, have even less than 0.2 percent of the population vaccinated, according to The New York Times’ world COVID vaccination tracker.

There are also concerns that promoting boosters, while some Black communities in the U.S. are struggling to raise vaccination rates, doesn’t solve the problem.

“We never want to chase the vaccine. We want to get ahead of it and the booster allows us to do that,” said Dr. Shamard Charles, assistant professor of public health and health promotion at St. Francis College, in an interview with theGrio

“But in Black and brown communities, we are struggling to get 50 percent of our population vaccinated. And so a booster doesn’t necessarily answer questions about misinformation. It doesn’t answer questions about conspiracy theories. We need to really make sure that while we’re having conversations about the booster, we’re continuing to have conversations about the vaccine,” said Charles.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended the decision to promote boosters during a Sunday appearance on “ABC This Week.”

“We have to protect American lives and we have to help vaccinate the world because that is the only way this pandemic ends,” said Murthy.

Booster shots increase antibody levels in people who receive them, which is especially important for the immunocompromised.

“When you think about antibodies, you’ve got to think about them like little soldiers in an army,” Charles told theGrio. “So our body is constantly fighting foreign invaders, including COVID. Some of those little antibodies. They do die off, OK? They don’t stay around forever. We want to keep those antibody levels high. We want to make sure we have a lot of soldiers in the fight. And so in order for us to do that, sometimes we have to get what we call a booster shot.”

Booster shots are nothing new, and in fact, many people receive boosters for other diseases such as hepatitis, measles, and Tdap.

Right now, booster shots are only available for Pfzier and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccinations, while data on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still being collected.

“We’re not saying that if you have two doses of the vaccine that you’re not well protected. In fact, you’re really well protected. But what we want to do is have a little bit more forward-thinking,” said Dr. Charles.

Being forward-thinking is key at a time when the Delta variant, a highly contagious mutation of COVID-19, has become the most prominent strain in the U.S.

We’re also learning that if you give a third boost, your antibody titers will go up, maybe up to tenfold,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, White House vaccinations coordinator, in an interview with theGrio. “We know that the higher your antibody titers are, the more likely you are to be able to be protected against the infections, including the Delta variant.”

Natasha S. Alford is the VP of Digital Content and Senior Correspondent at theGrio. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @natashasalford.

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