The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its vaccination guidance March 28, saying most people do not need a booster. The move comes as countries like Britain abandon their booster programs.
WHO is not recommending additional boosters for most people, including the young “given the comparatively low public health returns,” the organization said. That group includes younger, healthier adults who don’t have comorbidities,
Now, only those designated as high priority, including older adults and people with significant comorbidities such as diabetes or immunocompromising conditions such as having received an organ transplant are being advised by the United Nations organization to get an additional booster six to 12 months after their last dose. The group includes adults over the age of 60.
The updated guidance now aligns with the CDC which changed its guidance in the fall, saying that additional boosters are not needed. It also reverses the WHO’s previous guidance which recommended boosters for the medium priority group, which includes adolescents with comorbidities. WHO is now urging countries to take into consideration factors such as cost-effectiveness when vaccinating them.
“The public health impact of vaccinating healthy children and adolescents is comparatively much lower than the established benefits of traditional essential vaccines for children—such as the rotavirus, measles, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines—and of COVID-19 vaccines for high and medium priority groups,” the WHO said.
The updated guidance reflects how many people have either been vaccinated, have survived COVID-19, or both, Dr. Hanna Nohynek, a WHO official, said in a statement.
“Countries should consider their specific context in deciding whether to continue vaccinating low risk groups, like healthy children and adolescents, while not compromising the routine vaccines that are so crucial for the health and well-being of this age group,” she said.
COVID-19 poses less risk to many people since the Omicron variant and its subvariants displaced Delta in late 2021. Newer subvariants have increasingly evaded the protection from the vaccines and, to a lesser extent, that from COVID-19 recovery, also known as natural immunity. That has prompted some countries to initiate aggressive booster campaigns to try to recapture the previous protection. Others have narrowed or stopped their campaigns.
England, for example, recently ended its booster campaign for people under 50, citing the high levels of population immunity from vaccination and/or natural immunity. Danish authorities have for some time not commended COVID-19 vaccination to healthy people younger than 50.
Christine Stabell Benn, a vaccine expert in Denmark, notes that there is limited information about the risks of the COVID-19 vaccines since they’ve only been used for a few years, and that the list of confirmed and potential side effects has been growing, to include heart inflammation, tinnitus, and menstrual irregularities.
“With little if anything to gain, no societal benefit, and potential risks, COVID-19 vaccines should not be used in healthy children, in my opinion,” said Benn, professor and chair at the Bandim Health Project and Danish Institute for Advanced Study.
The CDC said this week also reversed course recommending against more than one of the new boosters, which come from Moderna and Pfizer.
“Can I get more than one updated COVID-19 booster? No,” the CDC says on its website.
As of March 22, 73.4 percent of the U.S. population aged 5 and older have received a primary series, according to federal data. Just 17.5 percent have received an updated booster.
President Biden is scheduled to end the National Covid Emergency order in May.