There is no evidence at present that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the World Health Organisation's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan says.
Speaking at a news briefing on Tuesday, she said that while there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity over time against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus, more research needs to be done to ascertain who needs booster doses.
"There is no evidence right now that healthy children or heavy adolescents need boosters. No evidence at all," she said.
Israel has begun offering boosters to children as young as 12 and the US Food and Drug Administration earlier this month authorised the use of a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.
Last week Germany became the latest country to recommend that all children between ages of 12 and 17 receive a COVID-19 booster shot.
Hungary has also done so.
Swaminathan said the WHO's top group of experts would meet later this week to consider the specific question of how countries should consider giving boosters to their populations.
"The aim is to protect the most vulnerable, to protect those at highest risk of severe disease and dying. Those are our elderly populations, immuno-compromised people with underlying conditions, but also healthcare workers," she said.
The WHO head of emergencies said on Tuesday the worst of the coronavirus pandemic - deaths, hospitalisations and lockdowns - could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.
Dr Michael Ryan, speaking during a panel discussion on vaccine equity hosted by the World Economic Forum, said "we may never end the virus" because such pandemic viruses "end up becoming part of the ecosystem".
But "we have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we've been talking about," he said.
The WHO has criticised the imbalance in COVID-19 vaccination between rich and poor countries as a catastrophic moral failure.
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Fewer than 10 per cent of people in lower-income countries have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Ryan told the virtual gathering of world and business leaders that if vaccines and other tools are not shared fairly, the tragedy of the virus, which has so far killed more than 5.5 million people worldwide, would continue.
"What we need to do is get to low levels of disease incidence with maximum vaccination of our populations, so nobody has to die," Ryan said.
"The issue is: it's the death. It's the hospitalisations. It's the disruption of our social, economic, political systems that's caused the tragedy - not the virus."
Ryan also waded into the growing debate about whether COVID-19 should be considered endemic, a label some countries like Spain have called for to help better live with the virus, or still a pandemic - involving intensified measures that many countries have taken to fight the spread.
"Endemic malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people; endemic HIV; endemic violence in our inner cities. Endemic in itself does not mean good. Endemic just means it's here forever," he said.
WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday the Omicron variant "continues to sweep the world" and said there were 18 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week.
Australian Associated Press with reporting from AP
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