As we enter week 84 of the global pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General DR. TEDROS ADHANOM answered three COVID questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio on Monday.
First things first. Give us some good COVID-19 news.
The good news is that we have found a way, through the rapid development of life-saving vaccines within one year, and treatments like dexamethasone, to both protect people’s health and end the pandemic. We know how to tame the virus, which is very good news. We are not in unchartered waters like when it started
But to realize the potential of these scientific developments, we need to ensure all people in every country have access to these tools, not only countries that can afford them and produce sufficient quantities for their own populations. There needs to be equity.
We know much about this virus. It is tenacious and infectious. New variants emerge often, infect easily, and we face challenges in terms of ensuring access to vaccines for all people, equitably, worldwide.
While well over 50 percent of people in high-income countries, including the United States, have been immunized, still less than 4 percent of people across Africa have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
But I am encouraged by the solidarity and generosity of many actors on the international stage.
I thank the United States of America — and the administration of President Biden, in particular — for the generosity and leadership shown in having delivered two-thirds of the 120 million doses so far received by the COVAX facility.
But clearly, we need more. We cannot extinguish the fire of the pandemic by only dousing the flames in one part of the house. We must quell the flames everywhere, quickly; otherwise, COVID-19 will continue to burn out of control.
What’s the likelihood that a variant emerges in the months ahead that’s more problematic than delta?
The delta variant, and others, have demonstrated the potential of variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to emerge. This represents the natural evolution of a virus, which are expected to change the more the virus circulates.
But each variant needs to be looked at for its characteristics in terms of its potential to cause more severe disease, its potential to transmit and its potential to escape vaccines. As my colleague, Dr. Mike Ryan, has said, “not every variant means the sky is going to fall in.”
If people worldwide continue to adhere to public health measures to break transmission chains, and if we ensure true vaccine equity by increasing access to vaccines to ensure all people, particularly the most vulnerable, are immunized, we will be in a much stronger position to reduce the chance of variants emerging.
Has social media been more helpful of harmful during this pandemic?
The truth is that social media has been both helpful and harmful.
The vast reach of social media platforms provide great potential for sharing vital information that can protect public health quickly with large numbers of people. When trusted, evidence-based science, solutions and means of protecting people are shared by social media platforms, and their followers, they play an invaluable role in protecting people from the dangers posed by COVID-19.
But we have seen that there are individuals and organizations dedicated to sharing misinformation and disinformation, and in doing so put people’s lives at great risk.
At WHO, we have an entire program dedicated to countering misinformation, which is as deadly as COVID-19 itself. We all have the duty and responsibility to be accurate and truthful in everything we do and share to beat this virus, not allow it to flourish.