Statement on the 15th Meeting of the Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic under the International Health Regulations (2005)

Statement on the 15th Meeting of the Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic under the International Health Regulations (2005)

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) is pleased to share the report of the fifteenth meeting of the Emergency Committee on the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) about the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting took place on Thursday, May 4, 2023, from 12:00 to 17:00 CET.

During the meeting, the Committee members emphasized several positive developments. They noted a significant decrease in COVID-19 deaths, a decline in hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units due to COVID-19, and the presence of high levels of population immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Committee’s perspective has evolved over the past few months. While recognizing the remaining uncertainties regarding the potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2, they advised that it is now appropriate to transition toward the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO Director-General concurs with the advice offered by the Committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He determines that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue that no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

Statement on the 15th Meeting of the Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic under the International Health Regulations (2005)

Proceedings of the meeting

The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed Members and Advisors of the Emergency Committee, who were convened by videoconference. He noted that the number of weekly reported deaths and hospitalizations continues to decrease, but expressed concern that surveillance reporting to WHO has declined significantly, that there continues to be inequitable access to life-saving interventions, and that pandemic fatigue continues to grow.

The Director-General announced the publication of the 2023-2025 COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan which is designed to guide countries in transitioning to long-term management of COVID-19. This plan outlines important actions for countries to consider in five areas: collaborative surveillance, community protection, safe and scalable care, access to countermeasures, and emergency coordination. The Director-General thanked Professor Houssin for his leadership in guiding the Committee over the last three years and each of the Committee Members and Advisors for their expertise, dedication, and commitment.

 

WHO provided updates on the status of global vaccination and considerations of implications for the potential termination of a PHEIC. The Committee was informed that, globally, 13.3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered. Currently, 89% of health workers and 82% of adults over 60 years have completed the primary series (the initial one or two doses recommended as per the vaccine schedule), although coverage in these priority groups varies in different regions.

Deliberative Session on the Status of the PHEIC

The Committee considered the three criteria of a PHEIC: whether COVID-19 continues to constitute 1) an extraordinary event, 2) a public health risk to other States through the international spread, and 3) potentially requires a coordinated international response. They discussed the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic. They acknowledged that, although SARS-CoV-2 has been and will continue circulating widely and evolving, it is no longer an unusual or unexpected. The Committee recognized that the Director-General may decide to convene an IHR Emergency Committee on COVID-19 if the situation requires it.

The COVID-19 PHEIC has prompted countries to enhance their functional capacities, particularly related to emergency coordination, collaborative surveillance, clinical care, and risk communications and communication engagement. The world has made significant and impressive global progress since the declaration of the PHEIC in January 2020. Reaching the point where COVID-19 can be considered as no longer constituting a PHEIC should be seen as an accolade to international coordination and commitment to global health.

Statement on the 15th Meeting of the Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic under the International Health Regulations (2005)

Temporary Recommendations issued by the WHO Director-General to all States Parties

  1. Sustain the national capacity gains and prepare for future events to avoid the occurrence of a cycle of panic and neglect. States Parties should consider how to improve country’s readiness for future outbreaks. In alignment with WHO guidance, States Parties should update respiratory pathogen pandemic preparedness plans incorporating learnings from national and sub-national After Action Reviews. States Parties should continue to restore health programs adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Preparedness and resilience for Emerging Threats;
  • Strengthening pandemic preparedness planning for respiratory pathogens: policy brief;
  • WHO COVID-19 policy briefs;
  • Emergency Response Reviews
  1. Integrate COVID-19 vaccination into life course vaccination programs. States Parties should maintain efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage for all people in the high-priority groups (as defined by the SAGE Roadmap of April 2023) with WHO-recommended vaccines and continue to actively address vaccine acceptance and demand issues with communities.
  • Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy in a Changing World (July 2022 update);
  • SAGE Roadmap (Updated March 2023);
  • Good practice statement on the use of variant-containing COVID-19 vaccines;
  • Continued collaboration with IVAC and others to summarise VE studies, Behavioural and social drivers of vaccination: tools and practical guidance for achieving high uptake.
  1. Bring together information from diverse respiratory pathogen surveillance data sources to allow for comprehensive situational awareness. States Parties should maintain reporting of mortality and morbidity data and variant surveillance information to WHO. Surveillance should incorporate information from an appropriate mix of representative sentinel populations, event-based surveillance, human wastewater surveillance, sero-surveillance, and surveillance of selected animal populations known to be at risk of SARS-COV-2. States Parties should leverage the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) and support the establishment of the WHO Global Coronavirus Laboratory Network (CoViNet).
  • Public health surveillance for COVID-19
  1. Prepare for medical countermeasures to be authorized within national regulatory frameworks to ensure long-term availability and supply. States Parties should strengthen their regulatory authorities to support long-term authorization and use of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
  • Therapeutics and COVID-19: living guideline;
  • COVID-19 Clinical Care Pathway;
  • Emergency Use Listing procedures;
  • Prequalification procedures for vaccines;
  • Prequalification procedures for in vitro diagnostics
  1. Continue to work with communities and their leaders to achieve strong, resilient, and inclusive risk communications and community engagement (RCCE) and infodemic management programs. State Parties should adapt RCCE and infodemic management strategies and interventions to local contexts.
  2. Continue to lift COVID-19 international travel-related health measures, based on risk assessments, and not require any proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a prerequisite for international travel.
  • Interim position paper: considerations regarding proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travelers;
  • Policy Considerations for Implementing a risk-based approach to international travel in the Context of COVID-19
  1. Continue to support research to improve vaccines that reduce transmission and have broad applicability; to understand the full spectrum, incidence, and impact of post COVID-19 condition and the evolution of SARS-COV-2 in immunocompromised populations; and to develop relevant integrated care pathways

Note: All news is collected from the WHO newsroom.

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