COVID-19 Update – WHO (Geneva, 14 May 2021)

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today (14 May) urged rich countries “to reconsider” vaccinating children and adolescents “and to instead donate vaccines to COVAX.”

During WHO’s regular briefing, Tedros said, “in low and lower-middle income countries, vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunise health and care workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently.”

He noted that at present, only 0.3 percent of vaccine supply is going to low-income countries and said, “trickle down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus.”

The WHO Director-General said, “India remains hugely concerning, with several states continuing to see a worrying number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths. WHO is responding and has shipped thousands of oxygen concentrators, tents for mobile field hospitals, masks and other medical supplies.”

He said, “COVID-19 has already cost more than 3.3 million lives and we’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first. Saving lives and livelihoods with a combination of public health measures and vaccination – not one or the other – is the only way out of the pandemic.”

WHO’s COVID-19 Technical lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, said, “WHO recommends masks, the use of masks as part of a comprehensive strategy towards controlling COVID – part of many different measures that are used to prevent the spread. In setting up policies to use masks as part of that strategy, it’s very contextual. It’s about how much virus is circulating around the country. It’s about the amount of vaccines and vaccinations that are rolling out. It’s about the variants of interest, the variants of concern that are circulating. We have to keep all of this in mind when thinking about how to adjust the policies associated with the use of masks. So, it is contextual. So, all of these considerations need to be taken into account.”

For her part, WHO’s Chief Scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said amajority of vaccines approved till now achieve reductions in the need for hospitalization and deaths. However, she said, “these vaccines are all not 100 percent effective against preventing infection.”

The good news, she said, “is that they do prevent infection in the range of 70 to 80 percent” and added that “we know that they do protect against infection, but not completely. So, you can still get infected, you can have asymptomatic or mild illness or even moderate symptoms even after being vaccinated.”

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