Opinion | Booster Shots Would Be Better Spent Saving African Lives

By Matshidiso Moeti

Dr. Moeti, a physician and public-health specialist, is the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa.

As the rich world rolls out Covid-19 booster shots, hundreds of millions of Africans remain dangerously exposed, still awaiting their first vaccine dose. This not only adds to the litany of harsh disparities we’ve seen around this virus, but it is also a scandalous injury to global solidarity and vaccine equity.

While early data on waning immunity is emerging around some vaccines, there’s no conclusive evidence to justify giving boosters to fit, healthy people. Third doses should be given only to the small number of people facing a high risk of severe illness and death, despite being fully vaccinated, including those with compromised immune systems. Boosters for the healthy are, effectively, a hopeful “why not.” Political decisions are getting ahead of science, diverting doses and leaving Africans with few options.

Giving healthy people boosters now is similar to sending a generous educational grant to a billionaire while others are scraping together their college tuition.

While Africa has weathered the Covid-19 pandemic better than many people expected, we are seeing each wave drive harder and faster. The third wave has been the worst yet, and it is putting a strain on already stretched and fragile health systems. While weekly new cases are subsiding, they remain high, and the pace of the descent is excruciatingly slow. The continent just passed 8 million reported cases, and it urgently needs vaccines to blunt the impact of a fourth wave.

Even before vaccines were approved, rich countries bought up far more doses than they needed, shunting others to the back of the line. Nine months after the arrival of the first vaccine, just 20 percent of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries have received a first dose — compared with 80 percent in many high- and upper-middle-income countries.

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