WHO chiefs warn that COVID-19 may not be the 'big one'

Experts from the World Health Organisation have issued a warning that, although the COVID-19 virus has been extremely severe, it is ‘not necessarily the big one’ and that people will have to learn to live with it in society.

Chairman of the WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards, Professor David Haymann, said that the destiny of the virus will be to become endemic even though vaccines are now being rolled out.

In the final briefing of the year, he said “The world has hoped for herd immunity, that somehow transmission would be decreased if enough persons were immune.” although he said the concept of herd immunity had been misunderstood, going on to say

“It appears the destiny of SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] is to become endemic, as have four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it reproduces in human cells, especially in areas of more intense admission.

“Fortunately, we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with Covid-19.”

Dr Mark Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies program, said “The likely scenario is the virus will become another endemic virus that will remain somewhat of a threat, but a very low-level threat in the context of an effective global vaccination program. It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up, how close we get to a coverage level that might allow us the opportunity to go for elimination. The existence of a vaccine, even at a high efficacy, is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating the infectious disease. That is a very high bar for us to be able to get over.”

He went on to say the first goal of the vaccination program was to stop deaths and protect the vulnerable, continuing “And then we will deal with the moonshot of potentially being able to eliminate or eradicate this virus.”

Warning that the next virus could be more severe he said  “This pandemic has been very severe … it has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one. This is a wake-up call. We are learning, now, how to do things better: science, logistics, training, and governance, how to communicate better. But the planet is fragile. We live in an increasingly complex global society. These threats will continue. If there is one thing we need to take from this pandemic, with all of the tragedy and loss, is we need to get our act together. We need to honor those we’ve lost by getting better at what we do every day.”

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