“A third dose of vaccine is not a luxury,” Kluge said during a press-conference in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen on Monday. “It’s basically a way to keep the most vulnerable safe.”
The head of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe acknowledged that medical authorities needed to be “a little bit careful” with booster shots because “there is not yet enough evidence” on their effect.
“But more and more studies show that a third dose keeps vulnerable people safe, and this is done by more and more countries in our region,” Kluge, who himself is still waiting to be inoculated with the first dose of the vaccine, pointed out.
He also called upon the wealthy European nations with a surplus of vaccines to share them with other nations, especially those in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Israel, which became one of the booster-shot pioneers in early August, has already inoculated over 1.9 million with a third dose of the Pfizer jab, which the country made available for all residents above 12 years of age at the weekend.
The US plans to offer the third shot to all residents from September 20 amid growing concerns over the weakening of vaccine protection with time, and in the face of the more contagious Delta variant.
Despite boosters not being approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia are currently recommending the third dose, with Germany on course to join these in autumn. “The responsibility to decide to include boosters in their vaccination campaign remains with the member states,” the EMA said last week.
The WHO has been critical of third-dose injections from the start, with the UN body’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calling for a moratorium on boosters, which, he insisted, were wrong from both an ethical and an epidemiological standpoint.
Ghebreyesus had addressed the issue numerous times during public appearances and on social media. Last week, he again urged for boosters to be delayed until enough jabs are supplied to poorer countries where only 1% or 2% of the population has been vaccinated. Raising global vaccination rates was the only way to avoid the appearance of new, more dangerous Covid-19 variants, he explained.
“There is a debate about whether booster shots are effective at all,” the WHO chief pointed out, adding that a third dose was only necessary for a very small number of people, whose immune system had been compromised.