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White House Says WHO's Call to Prioritize Vaccination Over Booster Shots is 'False Choice'

© REUTERS / Leonhard FoegerA doctor shows vials of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in his general practice facility, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Vienna, Austria May13, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
A doctor shows vials of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in his general practice facility, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Vienna, Austria May13, 2021.  REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.08.2021
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The White House dismissed suggestions by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday that it's more important to get basic COVID-19 vaccination to more people than to focus on delivering third booster shots to those who've already been vaccinated. According to Press Secretary Jen Psaki, the US can "do both."
Earlier on Wednesday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised "a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated," as data published by Pfizer last week suggested a third dose of its two-shot SARS-CoV-2 vaccine could provide additional protection against "breakthrough" cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
"We definitely feel that it's a false choice and we can do both," Psaki told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
"Also in this country [we] have enough supply to ensure that every American has access to a vaccine," she added. "We will have enough supply to ensure if the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] decides that boosters are recommended for a portion of the population to provide those as well. We believe we can do both and we don't need to make that choice."
While the US is capable of delivering a third vaccine dose to its citizens in the administration's estimation, Psaki cautioned that is not presently part of the plan.
“What we’ve been conveying to officials around the country who have implemented” giving third booster shots "in some places is that this is not in alignment with the guidance of public health officials, whether that is the CDC or the FDA, and we are certainly in touch with local officials on the matter and conveying exactly that," Psaki said Wednesday. "We also at the same time are prepared if the FDA decides that they are going to recommend a booster. That is why we ordered the number of doses we did order several months ago."
Earlier this week, Germany and the United Kingdom both announced they would begin giving selected, vulnerable groups booster shots to better guard against the Delta variant.
The US government has bought a total of 1.5 billion shots from a variety of vaccine manufacturers, enough to give 750 million people a two-dose SARS-CoV-2 vaccination course. The US population is just 330 million. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 401 million shots have been delivered to pharmacies and medical institutions across the country and 347 million of them have been administered; in other words, 192 million Americans have gotten one dose of the vaccine and 165 million have gotten both shots or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
However, the US' pace of vaccination is ahead of most of the world. While just under 50% of the US population is vaccinated against COVID-19, on the continent of Africa that number is barely 1.6%. Ghebreyesus noted on Wednesday that 80% of the 4 billion doses administered globally "have gone to high- and upper-middle income countries, even though they account for less than half of the world’s population."
The WHO chief warned last month that the growing disparity was leading to a "two-track pandemic - the haves are opening up, while the have-nots are locking down."
While the US has since announced a decision to buy 500 million Pfizer vaccines and donate them to poorer nations through next year, it was heavily criticized earlier this year for "hoarding" by nations like China, which has donated or sold abroad almost as many vaccines as it has delivered to its own citizens. Other First World nations, such as the UK and Israel, have similarly bought many times their population's worth of vaccines.
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