Moderna’s Vaccine News “Encouraging” But Won’t Solve Immediate Problem of Virus Surge in Europe & Americas – WHO
Dr Tedros warned that the vaccine updates will not solve immediate problems.

The World Health Organization is encouraged by early results of the efficacy of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine but its most immediate concern is the impact of the surge in cases in Europe and the Americas, threatening both health workers and health systems.

“While we continue to receive encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccines and remain cautiously optimistic about the potential for new tools to start to arrive in the coming months, right now, we’re extremely concerned by the surge in cases we’re seeing in some countries, particularly in Europe and the Americas,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the press briefing on 16 November.

“Health workers on the frontlines have been stretched for months. They’re exhausted,” warned Tedros. “We must do all we can to protect them, especially during this period when the virus is spiking and patients are filling hospital beds. At this moment, when some governments have put all of society’s restrictions in place, there is one set game, a narrow window of time, to strengthen key systems.”

WHO has 150 emergency teams in the field assisting countries to plan and implement their responses to the pandemic, added Dr Tedros.

“This is a dangerous virus, which can attack every system in the body. Those countries that are letting the virus run unchecked are playing with fire,” he warned.

Tedros also said that he hoped that the G20 meeting this coming weekend will commit more funds to fighting the pandemic.

While $US 5.1 billion had been committed so far, another $US 4.2 billion is needed urgently and $US 23.9 billion will be required in 2021, said Dr Tedros.

Moderna vaccine results

“There are many many questions still remaining about the duration of action, the impact of severe disease on different subpopulations especially the elderly, as well as the adverse events, beyond a certain period of time,” said WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

People who are at the highest risk in all countries, particularly health workers who are being disproportionately affected, should have access to a vaccine first, she added. For a more detailed report of the Moderna results, see Health Policy Watch’s story here.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan talks about the Moderna vaccine
WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said there are still many questions remaining.

WHO also dismissed reports of a COVID-19 outbreak at its Geneva headquarters (HQ), saying that 5 recent cases have been diagnosed among workers there, but it’s not clear if they were infected in the building or outside.

“There is no outbreak at WHO HQ,” says Dr Maria van Kerkhove, the organization’s COVID-19 technical lead. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 65 cases at HQ, and 36 cases of staff on the premises.”

Confirming that five HQ staff had been infected in the past week “that are linked together”, Van Kerkhove added that WHO didn’t yet know “if they’re an actual cluster”.

“There are possible ways in which they were infected outside of the premises. So we’re still doing the epidemiologic investigation with these individuals, but they are all doing well,” she added.

Map of cumulative COVID-19 cases globally, at 8pm CET, 16 November 2020.

Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergency Program, added that some of the Geneva staff lived in areas that “have some of the most intense transmission in the world right now”.

“To my knowledge, the cluster being investigated is the first evidence of potential transmission on the site of WHO, but we can’t completely protect ourselves. We are human beings and we live within a society and we’re not entirely within a cocoon here.”

Image Credits: WHO, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.