Brussels, Belgium:

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that people most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the elderly, will need to receive an annual vaccine booster to be protected against variants, shows an internal document seen by Reuters.

The estimate is included in a report, to be discussed Thursday at a meeting of the board of directors of Gavi, a vaccine alliance that co-leads the WHO COVID-19 vaccine program, COVAX. The forecast is subject to change and is also combined with two other less likely scenarios.

The vaccine makers Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc, with their German partner BioNTech, have expressed their opinion that the world will soon need booster injections to maintain high levels of immunity, but the evidence for this is not yet clear.

The document shows that the WHO considers annual boosters for high-risk individuals as its “indicative” baseline scenario and boosters every two years for the general population.

It does not say how these conclusions were reached, but it does show that, in the baseline scenario, new variants would continue to emerge and vaccines would be regularly updated to address these threats.

The UN agency declined to comment on the content of the internal document, while Gavi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The document, which is dated June 8 and is still in “work in progress,” also predicts under the base case that next year 12 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be produced worldwide.

That would be slightly higher than the forecast of 11 billion doses for this year cited by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Products Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), indicating that the UN agency does not expect a significant increase in the dose. vaccine production in 2022.

The document predicts manufacturing issues, regulatory approval issues and “the transition of some technology platforms” as the potential pulls in supplies next year.

It does not indicate which technologies could be phased out, but the European Union, which has reserved the world’s largest volume of COVID-19 vaccines, has bet heavily on injections using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna. and has given up some purchases of viral vector vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

WORST OF CASES

The scenarios will be used to define the WHO global vaccination strategy and forecasts may change as new data emerge on the role of boosters and the duration of vaccine protection, says Gavi in ​​another document, also seen by Reuters.

Around 2.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide so far, mainly in rich countries where more than half the population has received at least one dose, while in many poorer countries less than 1% have been vaccinated. according to Gavi estimates.

This gap could widen next year under the WHO’s most pessimistic forecast, as the need for annual boosters could once again push poorer nations to the bottom of the line.

In the worst case, the UN agency says production would be 6 billion doses next year, due to strict regulation for new injections and manufacturing problems with existing ones.

That could be compounded by the need for annual reinforcements for everyone, and not just the most vulnerable, to combat variants and the limited duration of protection.

In the most optimistic scenario, all pending vaccines would be licensed and production capacity would increase to around 16 billion doses to meet demand. Vaccines would also be shared fairly around the world.

There would be no need for boosters, as the vaccines would show high efficacy against variants and long-term protection.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)