Sharing WHO statement on the 9th meeting of the IHR (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the COVID-19 pandemic
The ninth meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the COVID-19 pandemic took place on October 22 via videoconference. Dr. Youngmee Jee, CEO of IPK, attended the meeting as a member of the Emergency Committee to discuss strategies with global public health leaders.
Major agendas addressed at the ninth meeting included ▲SARS-CoV-2 surveillance efforts and challenges, ▲immunity acquired through natural infection or vaccination and protection offered by both, ▲the value of intra-action reviews for States Parties to inform and enhance response efforts, and ▲the importance of maintaining risk-informed and multi-faceted Public Health and Social Measures(PHSM). In particular, implementation strategies and cooperative measures were discussed to achieve WHO's goal of immunizing 40% of the population in every country by the end of 2021.
The Committee recognized that although progress has been made through the increased uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, the pandemic is far from finished. The Committee emphasized the need to continuously use all available resources such as PHSM, vaccination, diagnostics, therapeutics, and effective communications to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on health, society, economy, and education. Additionally, the Committee recommended States Parties to consider revising their preparedness and response plans and assistance policies based on interdependencies, as prolonged COVID-19 pandemic poses additional burden in the context of humanitarian emergencies and mass migration, etc.
In particular, the Committee expressed concerns on the challenges faced by the African Region in responding to the pandemic due to the insufficient access to vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics as well as lack of collecting, analyzing and reporting epidemiological and quality laboratory data. In this line, the Committee urged for multilateral cooperation from the Member States to strengthen the African region's COVID-19 surveillance and response efforts.
The Committee requested WHO’s continued coordination of short, medium, and long-term research agendas to address knowledge gaps and strengthen global pandemic preparedness and response capabilities. Areas for further research were identified as ▲One Health aspects of SARS-CoV-2, ▲development of tools and medical devices such as reusable masks and respirators, and ▲development of next-generation vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for long-term control of the pandemic. The Committee also advised that the attributable impact of individual and combined PHSM should be studied, including aspects related to variants, and immunity from natural infection and vaccination.
The Committee concurred that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and issued the following advice to States Parties as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR on October 26.
Temporary Recommendations to States Parties
1. (Modified) Continue to use evidence-informed Public Health and Social Measures (PHSM) and life-saving tools such as WHO recommended therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines for COVID-19. The use of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and improving ventilation of indoor spaces remain key to reducing transmission of SARS CoV-2. The use of established PHSM in response to individual cases or clusters of cases, including contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, must continue to be adapted to the epidemiological and social context and enforced.
2. (Modified) Take a risk-based approach to mass gathering events by evaluating the risks. Consider the epidemiological context of mass gatherings and mass migrations (including the prevalence of variants of concern, the strength of transmission, as well as contact tracing and testing capacity) when conducting risk assessment in line with WHO guidance.
3. (Modified) Achieve the WHO call to action to have at least 40% of all countries’ populations vaccinated by the end of 2021. Increased global solidarity and production capacity is needed to protect vulnerable populations from the emergence and spread of SARS CoV-2 variants. States Parties are requested to share doses to increase global vaccine equity and to use a step-wise approach to vaccination, in accordance with advice from SAGE.
4. (Modified) Enhance surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and continue to report to WHO to enable rapid identification, tracking, and evaluation of variants and continued monitoring of the pandemic’s evolution and its control. States Parties are encouraged to strengthen their surveillance systems by implementing a dual-pronged approach for acute event and molecular surveillance strategies, including timely genomic surveillance data. States Parties should leverage existing national, regional, and global networks, such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance.
5. (Extended) Maintain essential health services with sufficient funding, supplies, and human resources; strengthen health systems to cope with mental health impacts of the pandemic in adults and children, concurrent disease outbreaks, and other emergencies.
6. (Extended) Continue a risk-based approach to facilitate international travel and share information with WHO on use of travel measures and their public health rationale. Measures (e.g. masking, testing, isolation/quarantine, and vaccination) should be based on risk assessments, consider local circumstances, and avoid placing the financial burden on international travelers in accordance with Article 40 of the IHR.
7. (Extended) Do NOT require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for international travel as the only pathway or condition permitting international travel given limited global access and inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. State Parties should consider a risk-based approach to the facilitation of international travel by lifting or modifying measures, such as testing and/or quarantine requirements, when appropriate, in accordance with the WHO guidance.
8. (Modified) Recognize all vaccines that have received WHO Emergency Use Listing and all vaccine schedules as per SAGE recommendations, including in the context of international travel.
9. (Extended) Address community engagement and communications gaps at national and local levels to reduce COVID-19 transmission, counter misinformation, and improve COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, where applicable. This will require reinforcing messages that a comprehensive public health response is needed.
10. (New) Support uptake of WHO recommended therapeutics by addressing increased accessibility and affordability. Local production and technology transfer can contribute to global equitable access to therapeutics.