It’s Still a Pandemic: WHO Advisers and Chief Concur
A healthcare worker wearing PPE disinfecting a street in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic and Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus both agree: the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

The UN health agency agreed on Monday that ending the state of international public health emergency over the coronavirus would be premature even after three long years since its appearance upended the world of normality as we knew it three years ago.

Tedros said in a statement that he concurs with the advice offered by committee in its report based on a closed videoconference on Friday. He acknowledged the committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is “probably at a transition point” that must be navigated carefully while ensuring the world is able to mitigate the potential negative consequences.

“Achieving higher levels of population immunity globally, either through infection and/or vaccination, may limit the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on morbidity and mortality, but there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future,” the committee reported.

“As such, long-term public health action is critically needed,” it said. “While eliminating this virus from human and animal reservoirs is highly unlikely, mitigation of its devastating impact on morbidity and mortality is achievable and should continue to be a prioritized goal.”

Personal protective equipment was essential to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic

Seven pandemic recommendations

As a result of his decision, Tedros advised nations to:

  1. Maintain momentum for COVID-19 vaccination to achieve 100% coverage of high-priority groups.
  2. Improve reporting of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance data to WHO
  3. Increase uptake and ensure long-term availability of medical countermeasures.
  4. Maintain strong national response capacity and prepare for future events
  5. Continue working with communities and their leaders to address the infodemic
  6. Continue to adjust any remaining international travel-related measures and do not require proof of vaccination for international travel
  7. Continue to support research for improved vaccines that reduce transmission and have broad applicability

The committee said moving forward past the PHEIC will require a focused commitment by WHO and its 194 member nations, along with other international organizations, put in place “systematic, long-term prevention, surveillance, and control action plans.”

The committee members, whose statement comes on the three-year anniversary of the determination of the COVID-19 PHEIC in January 2020, said it agreed the world is in a better position than it was during the peak of the Omicron transmission a year ago, yet more than 170,000 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported globally in the past eight weeks.

It agreed surveillance and genetic sequencing declined globally, making it more harder to track known variants and detect new ones, while health systems are struggling with COVID-19 and caring for patients with influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), health workforce shortages, and fatigued health workers.

Investment in strong health systems is key to pandemic=proofing the world.

WHO asked to study impact of ending pandemic

Vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics have been and remain critical in preventing severe disease, saving lives and taking the pressure off health systems and health workers globally, it said, but “the COVID-19 response remains hobbled in too many countries unable to provide these tools to the populations most in need, older people and health workers.”

Some 13.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, with 89% of health workers and 81% of adults older than 60 years completing the primary series, WHO said.

“COVID-19 remains a dangerous infectious disease with the capacity to cause substantial damage to health and health systems,” the committee said, adding that has asked the WHO Secretariat to provide an assessment of the regulatory implications for developing and authorizing vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics if the PHEIC were ended sometime “in the coming months.”

Image Credits: Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash, Tehran Heart Centre .

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