World Health Organization puts CDC on defense by drastically narrowing COVID vax recommendations

Boosters have "quite marginal" benefits for groups not at high risk, chair of WHO advisory group says. Primary series vaccination for healthy kids, adolescents not recommended.

Published: March 30, 2023 11:27pm

The U.S. one-size-fits-all COVID-19 vaccine policy, which recommends "up to date" inoculation at all ages regardless of risk level and provides the basis for ongoing mandates in low-risk settings, has become an even bigger international outlier.

The World Health Organization's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization is removing "healthy children and adolescents" from its default recommendations for primary series and booster shots, according to an official "highlights" summary from its meetings the week of March 20.

Recurring boosters beyond the first are no longer recommended by default for the "medium risk group" of healthy adults under 60 and children and adolescents with comorbidities. SAGE said those should be targeted to older adults, younger adults with "significant comorbidities," immunocompromised individuals, frontline healthcare workers and pregnant women.

Countries simply get less bang for the buck for COVID vaccination in low-risk populations compared to more important inoculations that have fallen off a cliff since COVID seized the world's attention, SAGE said in a related statement.

They should consider "contextual factors" such as disease burden and cost effectiveness if they want to continue or expand vaccinations for groups not at serious risk of severe outcomes from COVID, the statement said. 

SAGE Chair Hanna Nohynek told a news conference "the benefit of these additional boosters is actually quite marginal" for groups below high risk, medical publisher STAT reported.

Much of the highlights document, which will be fleshed out in a June report, emphasizes playing "catch-up" on routine immunizations that plummeted worldwide, such as for measles, yellow fever, "other outbreak prone diseases" and polio, partly in response to COVID alarmism about non-emergency medical visits and extended school closures.

A joint WHO-UNICEF report last summer found that 25 million children in 2021 alone missed a dose of the three-dose diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine, considered a benchmark for basic vaccination coverage, up 2 million from 2020 and 6 million from 2019. 

"Given that the Covid disease burden among young people is essentially zero, the WHO is describing vaccination of young people as a misprioritsation of spending," Nick Hudson, chairman of the multidisciplinary COVID policy analysis group PANDA, wrote on Twitter.

The revisions are starkly at odds with the newly updated U.S. childhood immunization schedule, which includes 3-4 doses of COVID vaccines for all children starting at 6 months old and is widely used by K-12 school districts to guide their own enrollment mandates. 

The CDC gave Just the News a rare statement when asked about the update, defending its across-the-board "up to date" recommendation last updated in March.

"WHO must consider the public health needs and resources of all nations when it makes recommendations" and the "trade-offs" some must make to achieve the greatest "potential reductions in illness and death" in children, press officer Nick Spinelli wrote in an email.

He didn't engage with the science of risk that SAGE invoked, instead continuing the CDC's trend of conflating temporary antibody jumps from each new dose — "protection" — with reduction of severe outcomes for all age groups.

"Both CDC and WHO follow evidence-based vaccination policy development processes with review of evidence by independent expert advisory groups" and reviewed the same evidence, Spinelli wrote.

The CDC tried to escape blame for a feared wave of new mandates by emphasizing its schedule does not override state laws on required immunizations, but critics blasted the update for lacking evidence and paradoxically worsening vaccine hesitancy.

The agency's basic competence and reliability came under scrutiny in a new analysis led by University of California San Francisco epidemiologists that found 25 basic statistical and numerological errors in CDC public communications and data sources such as its widely cited COVID data tracker.

One of the authors of the CDC critique, clinical trial specialist Vinay Prasad, shared the shocked reaction of Danes to his description of U.S. vaccine policy — particularly college booster mandates — on a recent trip to Denmark to give medical lectures.

Prasad suspects he found so much common ground with Danes on COVID policy in part because neither was "distracted" by former President Trump, whom U.S. progressives "could not acknowledge ... was right about anything," he wrote in his newsletter.

Even the most anti-Trump bastions in America seem to be reconsidering their enthusiasm for COVID vaccine mandates, with some exceptions.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) confirmed in February the Golden State had dumped its student vaccine mandate, which had already been on hold since April 2022. A California court blocked student mandates below the state level last summer, saying they violated state law.

Last fall, Washington, D.C. delayed enforcement of its student mandate until the 2023-2024 school year. Republican senators have twice introduced legislation to ban this "racist" mandate, noting it would disproportionately exclude black students, who are more than half the population.

Education Week reported in February that D.C. was the only current "state-level jurisdiction" with a student mandate but noted it was on hold for the same reason other districts had ended or scrapped plans: high noncompliance rates. The CDC's March 1 update shows 57% of children 6 months to 17 years old have not received a single vaccine dose.

Perhaps the most resistant setting for the relaxation of COVID vaccine mandates — higher education — is also relenting. 

The anti-mandate group No College Mandates, which maintains a regularly updated tracker, counted more than 60 colleges that updated their policies in March and are not carrying mandates into the new school year.

They include Minnesota's Carleton College, which ordered students last fall to get bivalent boosters soon after they received emergency use authorization based on mouse data.

Another is New York's Union College, which is being sued by a Mexican-American former premed student who went to the emergency room after her primary series yet was expelled after refusing to get a booster, the Daily Gazette reported. The school declined to comment.

University of Southern California Chief Student Health Officer Sarah Van Orman told the Daily Trojan that vaccination would now be a "personal healthcare decision" because of USC's near-perfect primary series and 85% booster rates.

Prominent holdouts include Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins but also historically black Morehouse College

Twitter Files journalist David Zweig noted a "remarkable connection" between free-speech rankings by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and college vaccination policies in a February essay

"Quite simply, an extreme vaccination policy, out of step with much of the world yet perfectly accepted in progressive America, announces one’s institution as an unimpeachable member of the tribe," he wrote.

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