GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — World Health Organization experts on Tuesday cautiously backed delaying second injections of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine in some situations, as they have already done for the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) also insisted that international travellers should not be prioritised for any COVID-19 jabs for the time being.
During a meeting last week, the experts had discussed the Moderna vaccine, which, like the Pfizer-BioNTech one, uses mRNA technology and is being rolled out in a number of countries.
Both vaccines require boosters after three to four weeks, but several countries facing limited vaccine supplies have said they will delay administering the second injection so that more people can get the first dose.
The WHO’s vaccine advisory group said it was best to respect the tested intervals of 28 days between doses.
But earlier this month, it said that in “exceptional circumstances” it was possible to wait for up to 42 days to administer the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and on Tuesday, it said the same for the Moderna jabs.
It warned though that “the evidence for this is not strong,” and stressed that “SAGE does not recommend halving the dose.”
The UN health agency has so far only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use, but it is expected to soon issue approval for the Moderna jab as well.
SAGE also recommended Tuesday that the Moderna vaccine, like the Pfizer-BioNTech one, only be administered in settings that can deal with a potential anaphylactic reaction.
It said it could not recommend its use during pregnancy or breastfeeding without seeing further safety data.
Amid a global shortage of various COVID-19 vaccines, the experts also advised against prioritising vaccinating international travellers.
The WHO is calling for health care workers and the most vulnerable 20 percent of people in every country to receive COVID-19 jabs before broadening immunisation programmes to other populations.
“In the current period of very limited vaccine supply, preferential vaccination of international travellers would counter the principle of equity,” SAGE said.
“Because of this and the lack of evidence that vaccination reduces the risk of transmission, SAGE currently does not recommend COVID-19 vaccination of travellers,” it said.
It added though that of course people in high-risk groups planning to travel should be included in vaccination programmes.