- Advice comes as numerous scientific studies show that boosters help restore waning immunity
- WHO said it is continuing to monitor the global spread of Omicron, including a ‘stealth’ version known as BA. 2
An expert group convened by the World Health Organization said it “strongly supports urgent and broad access” to booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, capping a reversal of the UN agency’s repeated insistence last year that boosters weren’t necessary for healthy people and contributed to vaccine inequity.
In a statement released on Tuesday, WHO said its expert group concluded that immunisation with authorised Covid-19 vaccines provided high levels of protection against severe disease and death amid the continuing spread of the hugely contagious Omicron variant.
WHO eased back on its earlier position in January by saying boosters were recommended once countries had adequate supplies and after protecting their most vulnerable.
It said vaccination, including the use of boosters, was especially important for people at risk of severe disease.
Last year, WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a moratorium on booster doses while dozens of countries embarked on administering the jabs, saying rich countries should immediately donate those vaccines to poor countries instead. WHO scientists said at the time they would continue to evaluate incoming data.
The updated recommendations came from an 18-member advisory group that focuses on the impact of “variants of concern” – the most worrying variants, like Omicron – and assesses the vaccines’ effectiveness against them.
Numerous scientific studies have proven that booster doses of authorised vaccines help restore waning immunity and protect against serious complications from coronavirus. Booster programmes in rich countries including Britain, Canada and the US have been credited with preventing the surge in Omicron infections from spilling over into hospitals and cemeteries.
WHO said it is continuing 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. There’s mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear just as effective against it.
WHO noted that the current authorised 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 virus evolution and it is likely that this evolution will continue, resulting in the emergence of new variants,” the agency said. It added that coronavirus vaccines would likely need to be updated.