The World Health Organization said Friday it has updated its global COVID-19 vaccine strategy to prioritize reaching those most at risk from the disease.
The World Health Organization has not achieved its goal of vaccinating 70% of each country’s population against COVID-19 by mid-year but has not abandoned the quest. Indeed, it sees protecting the highest-risk populations with the vaccine as being in line with efforts to reach the 70% target.
WHO says the pandemic is far from over, noting the global weekly number of reported cases of COVID-19 has almost doubled in the past six weeks.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says deaths also are increasing, but not as rapidly as cases. However, he warns more cases mean more hospitalizations, and that more deaths can be expected in the coming weeks.
“Our current vaccines remain highly effective against severe diseases and death. The focus in every country must be to vaccinate all health workers, all older people, and all people at greatest risk. We will need more vaccines that are better at protecting against infection,” said Tedros.
The strategy update calls for vaccinating 100% of health care workers and 100% of the highest-risk populations, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. It says they should receive both primary vaccines and booster doses.
The U.N. health agency says more effort must be made to reach high-risk populations in poorer countries, too many of whom were missed during the global COVID-19 vaccination rollout. It says more than 12 billion doses have been administered worldwide. Yet, it reports only 28% of older populations and 37% of health care workers in poorer countries have been vaccinated, and most have not received booster shots.
Tedros says the coronavirus keeps evolving and vaccines will have to be developed to keep pace with the new variants. He warns the global recovery from the pandemic will be at risk if poor populations continue to be overlooked.
“And if and when we get those vaccines, we cannot afford the same horrific inequity that stained the rollout of vaccines last year,” Tedros said.
He says vaccinating all those at the most risk is the single best way to save lives, protect health systems and keep societies and economies open.