The World Health Organization is calling for greater investment in the development of new vaccines to keep pace with the rapidly evolving variants of the coronavirus.
As world attention is focused on the monkeypox outbreak, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. He says new tools must be developed to curb this deadly disease while public health measures that are known to work must be maintained and strengthened.
He says one of the most effective ways to save lives is to vaccinate the right groups first. By this he means health workers, older people, and other at-risk groups such as those with underlying health conditions.
He notes COVID-19 cases and deaths have been increasing for the last five weeks. The latest WHO report puts the number of confirmed global cases at nearly 566 million, including more than 6.3 million deaths.
Tedros says several countries also are reporting increasing hospitalizations, following waves of transmission driven by omicron subvariants. “While vaccines have saved countless lives, they have not substantially reduced transmission. So, it is vital for governments and the private sector to continue collaborating and investing in the development of new vaccines that prevent both infection and disease.”
Tedros adds vaccines should be developed that can be delivered more easily, such as through nasal sprays or drops.
The WHO executive director for health emergencies, Mike Ryan, says more attention must be paid to pandemic preparedness. He says risks from diseases such as COVID-19, monkeypox, Marburg, and polio are accelerating because nations tend to be reactive, rather than active in tackling these diseases.
“I think we need to really take a much more systematic look at how we prioritize pathogens for the future and then how we invest… It will cost money and it does cost money. But it is a fantastic investment in protecting us down the line. And a dollar spent in preparedness is worth a thousand dollars spent on response.”
WHO chief Tedros agrees. He urges all countries to assess and strengthen their readiness and response plans for future waves of transmission.
He adds that as new vaccines and other COVID-19 tools are developed, it is crucial they are equitably available in all countries.