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Gottlieb says WHO could be playing a role in

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Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Sunday on “Face the Nation” that the World Health Organization (WHO) could be playing a role in “global leadership” in getting the COVID-19 vaccines administered around the world.  

“We have to do the hard work of getting the infrastructure on the ground. It also includes getting sophisticated technology into some of these regions, like the cold chain storage that’s required,” Gottlieb said. “I think this is where the WHO could be providing more global leadership. It’s largely a political body. It’s not on the ground. We need to do some kind of heavy-lift capability to get resources into some of these countries, so they have the logistical capacity to distribute these vaccines.”

Gottlieb said there is ample supply of COVID-19 vaccines currently available, but he acknowledged that with the emergence of the Omicron variant, boosters will be a premium.  

“But regardless, I still think we’re going to have enough supply to distribute it equitably around the globe, and it’s going to be a question of getting shots in arms on the ground,” Gottlieb said. 

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Gottlieb added that “if COVID is going to be a long battle and it’s going to be a recurrent virus that continues to mutate, countries need to have the capacity to deal with it on their own with global assistance, but not have to be so dependent upon western nations.” 

According to the New York Times’ world vaccination map, about 74% of the shots that have gone into arms worldwide have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Only 0.8%  of doses have been administered in low-income countries. 

First reported by South Africa to the World Health Organization, the Omicron strain was classified as a “variant of concern” due to its high number of mutations and initial evidence that it can reinfect individuals at a higher degree than other strains. 

To head off a surge in coronavirus cases with the Omicron variant and impending winter weather, the Biden administration last week rolled out a new plan that includes more stringent COVID-19 testing requirements for international travelers before they arrive in the U.S. and an enhanced campaign for booster shots.

But the decision by high-income nations to distribute boosters while poorer countries are still struggling to vaccinate their populations has been a criticism of the World Health Organization. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, told “Face the Nation” on Sunday called the disparity “unjust.”

“People around the world who are most at risk need their first and second doses before others get more doses,” she said. “Many people in the world are protected, very well protected against severe disease and death, and adding another booster on top of that at the expense of others in other countries is what we’re saying is unjust. It’s unfair. It’s not right.”

But Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general, defended the Biden administration’s plan to push fully vaccinated adults to get their booster shots, as vaccine protection has been shown to wane over time.

“Our job is both to protect people in America and to protect health, also obviously the world from a global pandemic,” Murthy told “Face the Nation.” “But the data is very clear that getting a booster shot increases your protection and we’ve got to do both … both boost people here and make sure that the rest of the world has vaccines, and that’s exactly in fact what we’re doing.”

The Biden administration has committed more than 1 billion vaccine doses for the global supply, but Van Kerkhove said wealthy nations should do more.

“Frankly, it’s not enough, and we need it from more countries,” she said. “We are incredibly grateful for what the United States has delivered, but we need that from other leaders around the world.”

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