The sixth meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) took place on Thursday, 14 January 2021 from 12:15 to 16:45 Geneva time (CEST).
Members and Advisors of the Emergency Committee were convened by videoconference.
The Director-General welcomed the Committee, expressed the need for global solidarity in addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic, and emphasized the need for protection of the most vulnerable. He thanked the Committee for their continued support and advice.
Representatives of the legal department and the Department of Compliance, Risk Management, and Ethics (CRE) briefed the members on their roles and responsibilities. The Ethics Officer from CRE provided the Members and Advisers with an overview of the WHO Declaration of Interest process. The Members and Advisers were made aware of their individual responsibility to disclose to WHO, in a timely manner, any interests of a personal, professional, financial, intellectual or commercial nature that may give rise to a perceived or direct conflict of interest. They were additionally reminded of their duty to maintain the confidentiality of the meeting discussions and the work of the Committee. Each member who was present was surveyed and no conflicts of interest were identified.
The Secretariat turned the meeting over to the Chair, Professor Didier Houssin. Professor Houssin also welcomed the Committee and reviewed the objectives and agenda of the meeting.
The WHO Director of the Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment Department provided an overview of the evolution of the pandemic and the progress made on the implementation of the 30 October 2020 Temporary Recommendations. WHO continues to monitor the global risk level of the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO assessed the global risk level as very high due, in part, to recent reports of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.
A representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland presented on the new SARS-CoV-2 variant which is causing increased transmission but not severity of COVID-19. A representative of Denmark presented on the SARS-CoV-2 mink variants and their response which has resulted in these variants no longer circulating in human populations. The WHO Technical Lead for COVID-19 Response and an Emergency Committee Member from South Africa provided an overview of the variant detected by South Africa. The WHO Technical Lead then shared a global overview of SARS-CoV-2 mutations and variants as well as plans to develop and implement standard nomenclature for variants that does not reference a geographical location.
The WHO Director of the Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Department presented the current status of the COVID-19 vaccine landscape and introduction. The Chair of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) noted available guidance including WHO SAGE Roadmap for Prioritizing Uses of COVID-19 Vaccines in the Context of Limited Supply and the Interim Recommendations for Use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2) under Emergency Use Listing. The Director of Air Transport Bureau of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) shared their COVID-19 activities related to testing and vaccination, including the Manual on Testing and Cross Border Risk Management Measures (Doc 10152) which provides countries with risk management strategies for international travel. The WHO Unit Head of the IHR Secretariat provided an overview of the legal provisions as well as the scientific, ethical and technological considerations for vaccination certificates related to international travel.
The Committee recognized the challenges posed by some manufacturers’ delayed submission of vaccine data to WHO. These data delays impact WHO’s ability to provide emergency use listing which ultimately affect equitable vaccine access. The Committee strongly encourages manufacturers to provide data to WHO as rapidly as possible.
The Committee unanimously agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic still constitutes an extraordinary event, a public health risk to other States through international spread, and continues to require a coordinated international response. As such, the Committee concurred that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and offered advice to the Director-General.
The Committee recognized WHO’s and States Parties’ progress in implementing the previous Temporary Recommendations from the 5th meeting of the Emergency Committee. The Committee noted that these recommendations remain relevant and had acquired additional urgency given the evolution of the pandemic and the continued need for a coordinated global response. The Committee advised on extending the previous Temporary Recommendations and provided additional advice to the Director-General.
The Director-General determined that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute a PHEIC. He accepted the advice of the Committee to WHO and issued the Committee’s advice to States Parties as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR.
The Emergency Committee will be reconvened within three months, at the discretion of the Director-General. The Director-General thanked the Committee for its work.
Health Measures in Relation to International Traffic
Health Measures in Relation to International Traffic
Evidence-Based Response Strategies
Refine evidence-based strategies according to WHO guidance to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 using appropriate public health and social measures, including strategies that address pandemic fatigue.
Increase investment in surveillance and sequencing capacities to detect and report early emergence of variants and assess abrupt changes in transmission or disease severity to increase understanding of the evolution of the pandemic.
Utilize the WHO SARS-CoV-2 global laboratory network, leverage GISRS and other laboratory networks for timely reporting and sharing of samples; support other State Parties, where needed, in timely sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus specimens.
Strengthening Health Systems
Continue to strengthen public health infrastructure, system capacities, and functions for COVID-19 response and to enhance universal health coverage.
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‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort