WHO Emergency Committee To Member States: “Do Not Require Proof of Vaccination” As Condition Of International Travel
Some studies have suggested that administration to travelers of a rapid COVID test upon arrival may be just as effective as lengthy quarantine requirements, to control the import of COVID-19 cases.

After months of stalemate, WHO looks set to update its guidance on managing COVID-19 infections in the context of international travel – but proof of vaccination should not be required as a condition of entry to any country, emphasized WHO’s International Health Emergency Committee.

This was among the wide-ranging recommendations issued on Monday by the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which first declared that the COVID-19 outbreak constituted an International Public Health Emergency (PHEIC), in January of 2020.

That advice seemed to clash head-on with the political winds in many countries, and the travel industry, regarding the adoption of vaccine certificates to reopen travel while containing virus spread and variants. Groups ranging from the International Air Transport Association to the European Commission have proposed the creation of a digital COVID vaccine/recovery certificate to facilitate safer international travel.

The statement also follows months in which WHO has resisted taking a stance in favor of now widely used measures such as pre-flight or post-flight COVID testing  – even though this is now widely practiced around the world – from Europe and North America, to Africa and Asia.

In a press release issued after its seventh meeting on the COVID pandemic, the Committee said that WHO should indeed: “update the WHO December 2020 risk-based guidance for reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission related to international travel (by air, land, and sea) based on current science and best practices that include clear recommendations for testing approaches and traveler quarantine duration, as appropriate.”

It added that the updated travel guidance should “take into consideration COVID-19 vaccination roll out, immunity conferred by past infection, risk settings, movements of migrants, temporary workers, and purpose of travel (non-essential versus essential),” the Committee stated.

But in an explicit message to member states, the Committee added: “Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given the limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and the persistent inequity in the global vaccine distribution. States Parties are strongly encouraged to acknowledge the potential for requirements of proof of vaccination to deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement.”

Strict COVID-related controls in travel and COVID testing at airports helped ‘bend the curve’ of the outbreak,in some countries, experts say. But WHO has so far not provided guidance.  
Other Advice – Control Food Safety in Wild Animal Markets to Reduce Pathogen Spillover to Humans

In other recommendations, the Committee also advised WHO and member states to proceed with rapid implementation of recommendations that have emerged from the international expert committee investigating the origins of the SARS-CoV2 virus, including new WHO guidance to temporarily suspend the sales of wild mammals in the so-called “wet animal markets”, where wild animals are held in captivity, and slaughtered on site for customers in many Asian and African cities.

The WHO international expert committee had said that infected wild mammals that were slaughered and sold in Wuhan wet markets were one “very likely” pathway for the introduction of the SARS-CoV2 virus into the city – although other scientists have charged that the theory the virus escaped from a Wuhan virology laboratory investigating coronaviruses should not be discounted either.

According to the Emergency Committee recommendations, WHO should:

  • Encourage research into the genetic evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • Promote One Health approaches to better understand and reduce the risk of spill-over of emerging infections from animal to human populations and from humans to animals, including from domestic animals.
  • Work with partners to develop and disseminate joint risk-based guidance for regulation of wet markets and farms to reduce transmission of novel pathogens from humans to animals and vice-versa.

The Committee also urged WHO to continue its appeals to “global solidarity efforts to increase equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and ancillary supplies by supporting the COVAX Facility and engaging in technology transfer, where feasible.”  And it said that WHO and member states should strengthen its epidemiological and virologic surveillance as part of a comprehensive strategy to control the development of COVID-19 variants, including member state’s sharing of variant gene sequences and meta-data with WHO and on publicly available platforms.


Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons: Nemo.

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