The World Health Organization announced Monday that the Covid-19 pandemic remains a public health emergency, but signaled strongly that it believes it may be able to lift that designation in coming months.
The decision to extend the pandemic’s status as a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, was made on the advice of a committee of outside experts who met Friday to deliberate on the issue. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accepted their recommendation.
The so-called Covid-19 emergency committee concluded, though, that the pandemic may be at an inflection point. And it recommended that the WHO take actions that would set the stage for a safe dissolution of the PHEIC. The committee must meet again in three months.
While there isn’t universal agreement that Covid still meets the criteria for a PHEIC, the decision to extend the designation for a little while longer comes as no surprise.
It is clear that Covid-19 is here to stay, and that while vaccination has lowered the risk of severe disease and death, the illness still takes a significant toll on individuals and on health systems, the committee said. It is also clear, it suggested, that pandemic fatigue and a public perception that Covid no longer poses the same level of risk have undermined efforts to limit spread of the disease.
In order to prepare for the eventual termination of the PHEIC, the emergency committee recommended that the WHO develop other ways to maintain attention on Covid, including accelerating the integration of surveillance for Covid into the long-standing program that monitors influenza transmission and viral evolution around the globe.
It also asked the WHO staff who serve as the committee’s secretariat to assess the regulatory implications that ending the PHEIC might have on the development and authorization of Covid vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
During Friday’s meeting the emergency committee was told that 13.1 billion doses of Covid vaccines have been administered globally, with 89% of health workers and 81% of adults aged 60 and older having completed a primary series.
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