Betsy McCaughey: COVID vaccine equity? US deserves answers on booster shots vs. donations to rest of world

Booster shots against COVID are politically incorrect, the left is claiming

Booster shots against COVID are politically incorrect, the left is claiming. 

Giving boosters to vaccinated people in rich countries, while millions in poor countries go unvaccinated, is nothing short of greed, said World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday. WHO wants vaccine equity.  

That viewpoint could pose a problem for the 147 million Americans vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna shots who are wondering whether they need a booster. Rolling out boosters in the U.S. will consume millions of doses and threaten Team Biden’s magnanimous plan to lead the world in vaccinating poor countries. 


Anthony Fauci, top health adviser to President Biden, waffled on Sunday, saying federal officials "don’t feel that we need to tell people right now you need to be boosted," but adding the answer may change. 

That’s not helpful. The public wants answers, not a repeat of the run-around they got over whether to wear a mask. 


When Pfizer publicly announced last Thursday that it would apply soon to the FDA for emergency authorization to offer boosters, the FDA and CDC  shut down the discussion with a  terse, one-sentence statement that boosters are not needed. Even before seeing Pfizer’s data. No data and no scientific discussion. 

On Monday, Tedros condemned vaccine disparities between rich and poor nations and called on Pfizer and Moderna tovaccinate the poor countries instead of supplying boosters to the wealthy ones.  

More from Opinion

That’s the issue. In June, Team Biden pledged 500 million doses of future vaccine supply to the World Health Organization’s project COVAX. Those doses will be paid for by American taxpayers. But now public health authorities and the International Monetary Fund are warning that boosters  will consume manufacturing capacity and retard sending shots to unvaccinated poor countries. The IMF said it’s a problem  of vaccine privilege. 

Meanwhile,  health officials in some nations are moving ahead with boosters to protect their own populations. 

Israel announced on Sunday that it is starting to offer third shotsto people over 70 and fragile patients. Infections in Israel are surging, and more than half the patients hospitalized with serious cases are vaccinated. 

The United Kingdom is rolling out a booster program in September. France is already recommending boosters to cancer patients and others with immune deficiencies. 

But in the U.S., the resistance appears to be largely political, not medical. "It’s impossible to ignore the global situation," Emory University biostatistician Natalie Dean told the New York Times. "It’s hard for me to imagine getting a third dose," when many people in other countries are unvaccinated. Dr. Celine Gounder of Bellevue Hospital in New York said the U.S. should "not hoard more doses to give third doses" here. 

What is medically best for Americans should be the first priority, and it should be based on science.

 "Given that vaccine supplies are limited," the Times reports, "public health officials overall are reluctant to expend them on people in wealthy countries who are fully vaccinated." Using that reasoning, doctors here should withhold advanced cardiac treatments and knee replacements from patients because poor countries can't offer those.   

It’s true, as Fauci argues, that "an outbreak in any part of the world, is an outbreak for the entire world." Vaccinating poorer countries will help tame the pandemic. 

Even so, what is medically best for Americans should be the first priority, and it should be based on science. On Monday, Pfizer presented its data to federal health officials, who said they needed to see more.     

If boosters turn out to be medically indicated, America faces an ethical question: Should U.S. public resources go first to funding the boosters or funding help for other countries? In a democracy, the public makes that decision, not health bureaucrats behind closed doors. 

Like Fauci. The first day after Biden’s inauguration, Fauci effusively praised the WHO, reversed Trump’s withdrawal from the organization, and announced  the U.S. would generously support its vaccine sharing effort, COVAX. Providing the biggest share of COVAX vaccines is Fauci’s baby. 

Biden waited until June to launch the vaccine donations, assuring Americans would have enough first. Now the likely need for boosters imperils the supply for these donations. 

When the U.S. was short of masks in the spring of 2020, public health officials told us we didn’t need them instead of admitting to the shortage. This time we deserve the truth.  


And when supplies are sufficient to meet American patients' needs and we can donate to poor countries, make sure those donated vials have American flag symbols on them. Donating through the WHO's COVAX program makes the gift anonymous.  

Anonymous foreign aid makes no sense. China and Russia are waging aggressive vaccine diplomacy. When people in poor countries receive a vaccine, they will be grateful to the country that saved their lives. American taxpayers deserve that credit.