The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, says the COVID-19 pandemic can be ended this year if the international community combined a series of tools including increased vaccinations and booster uptake while integrating COVID-19 measures into routine health services and programmes.
He was speaking alongside the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York who indicated that while the end of the pandemic was in sight, it was still a long way off from being over.
With vaccines including updated bivalent immunizations that tackle the latest and dominant Omicron strains, and anti-viral drugs coming on board in addition to testing – Guterres believes that combined, these measures offer a clear path to preventing deaths and out of the pandemic.
“We must close the booster gap. Vaccine booster coverage remains low everywhere. But low-income countries, in particular, are still struggling- with only 35% of healthcare workers, and 31% of older populations, fully vaccinated and boosted. Our top priority continues to be getting vaccines into arms. This must include addressing the shadow pandemic of vaccine hesitancy and countering misinformation with lifesaving facts. Second, we must close the testing gap. Testing rates are plummeting everywhere, exposing the world to potential variants and undermining the rollout of new treatments. Giving these new medicines a chance means dramatically expanding testing and treatment coverage, especially for low and middle-income countries.”
The United States and the United Kingdom are among countries that approved two bivalent or updated mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna that contain two messenger RNA components of the virus – one for the original strain and the other one in common with both the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the omicron variant of the virus – a possible game-changer in ending the pandemic if uptake meets the moment.
While Guterres called for the pandemic preparedness gap also to be addressed.
“Now is the time to strengthen our defense against future threats by investing in early warning systems, local manufacturing, and diagnostic capabilities, and a well-paid, well-supplied health workforce. We must never be caught so unprepared again. It’s time to build political momentum to finish the job on COVID-19. Let’s get it done. Let’s end this pandemic, once and for all.”
The WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calibrated earlier comments that the world has never been in a better position to end the pandemic.
“We have the tools to bring the acute phase of this pandemic to an end, but only if we vaccinate all health workers and older people, keep testing and expand access to effective antivirus. That doesn’t mean the virus will go away. It means countries will be able to transition managing it alongside other respiratory diseases.”
With global deaths just 10% of what they were in January 2021, light at the end of the tunnel but a collective effort shaped in solidarity is still required to get everyone over the finish line.
VIDEO: Full report of UN Chief on COVID-19