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Picture of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (representative) | Photo: AP

That World Health Organization (WHO) says that Coronavirus vaccine boosters should be offered to the most vulnerable first, in a step away from its previous insistence that boosters were unnecessary for healthy adults, and a recognition that the vaccine supply is improving globally.

At a press briefing on January 21, the UN Health Agency said it now recommended booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, starting in the highest priority groups, about four to six months after receiving the first two doses, in accordance with dozens of guidelines of countries that started booster programs months ago.

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Last year, the WHO pleaded rich countries to declare a moratorium on offering booster doses until the end of 2021, an appeal that was virtually ignored. The agency said its expert vaccine team assessed the rising booster dose data and noted the declining immune protection over time. Several studies in recent months have shown that booster doses restore antibody levels and offer strong protection against serious illness, including against COVID-19 variants such as delta and omicron.

“Boosters are part of the vaccination program, but that does not mean unhindered use for all ages,” said WHO Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biology. “We continue to have the highest focus on vaccination of the highest priority groups,” she said. The WHO also approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as five years old in a reduced dose. Countries including the United States and Canada gave the green light to Pfizer’s shots for young children last fall.

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