Experts highlight challenges in fighting COVID-19 at WEF

(Xinhua) 10:16, January 22, 2023

GENEVA, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Public health experts and officials attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2023 have cautioned against some major challenges in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, as Omicron variants are still spreading rampantly worldwide.

They emphasized the impact of long COVID, vaccine inequality and pandemic-related misinformation at the meeting held at Davos, Switzerland.


While the COVID situation has been better than that in the early stages, Michelle Williams, dean of the faculty at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, warned at the WEF that the "bottom line is this pandemic is far from over."

Williams said that there are still 526 deaths per day from COVID-19 across the United States, up from about 400 per day in October last year.

"What's really disappointing is nine out of 10 of those deaths could be averted," if vaccines and boosters would have been taken, and other behavioral aspects, such as ventilation, mask-wearing, and appropriate social distancing practised, Williams said.

"So for me as a public health person, knowing that we could avert nine out of 10 of those deaths reminds me of the fact that we have to avoid prematurely talking about this pandemic being over," she said.

The expert also cited social-economic implications that "long COVID" would inflict upon society in the future.

"In the U.S. alone, over 174,000 COVID infants will have a life course impacted by this pandemic," she said. "And it's not only going to be impacting individuals and families, but the economic impact of long COVID ... is that it's going to cost us 3.7 trillion (U.S.) dollars. That's going to have financial impacts."


While COVAX was launched in 2020 to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) has long been complaining about rich countries stockpiling the majority of multiple vaccine supplies.

Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said at the WEF that for three years in half of the lower-income countries, 53 percent of the population have got their primary vaccination. Globally, the coverage rate is 64 percent.

"We realize that the disparities were still there," Berkley said.

Addressing a panel discussion at the WEF, Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program, said that "there is no way out of this pandemic right now without vaccines as the central strategic pillar."

"Being able to use those vaccines equitably is not only a fair and important humanitarian objective, it's the best way for us all to get out of the pandemic phase that we're currently in right now," Ryan said.

To ensure vaccine equity, Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global vaccine partnership, called on countries and manufacturers at the WEF to prioritize vaccine supply to the global program COVAX and to support the local production of tests, vaccines and treatments around the world.

Hatchett also asked pharmaceutical companies to stand in solidarity with developing countries by sharing licences, know-how and technology to find a way out of the pandemic.


Even with enough vaccines and preparedness, response to similar public health crises in the future could still be compromised, if there is a lack of solid trust between the public, governments and academia. Meanwhile, the rampant spread of misinformation on social media would also make things worse.

Williams said a diverse society needs to have multiple layers of communicators and different styles of communicating.

The expert said governments should understand the people and the communities they are serving, reckon with the reasons for mistrust, and then work collaboratively and respectfully in addressing the appropriate message and messenger to promote change.

"That's where a better understanding and behavioral sciences are going to help us," said Williams.

Berkley pinpointed "intentional misinformation" as one of the challenges, while citing the bad COVID situation in the United States as an example.

"It's about the political climate and misinformation ... That's really unfortunate," Berkley said. "And even other external experts, who might have been able to help, were then also demonized."

The WHO has labeled the pandemic-related misinformation as an "infodemic," which refers to "too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak."

It has called for an infodemic management by listening to community concerns and questions, promoting understanding of risk and health expert advice, building resilience to misinformation, and engaging and empowering communities to take positive action. 

(Web editor: Xue Yanyan, Liang Jun)


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