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COVID-19 pandemic was avoidable had leaders acted promptly: WHO Commissioned Report

The report reprimands global leaders and calls for major policy changes to bring the pandemic to an end and ensure it cannot happen again.

May 12, 2021 / 05:20 PM IST
An independent high-level panel's report, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), remarks that the COVID-19 pandemic was avoidable, that need not have cost millions of lives if world leaders had reacted in a more proactive manner. 
(Representative Image)

An independent high-level panel's report, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), remarks that the COVID-19 pandemic was avoidable, that need not have cost millions of lives if world leaders had reacted in a more proactive manner. (Representative Image)

An independent high-level panel's report, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the COVID-19 pandemic was avoidable, that need not have cost millions of lives if world leaders had reacted in a more proactive manner.

The report reprimands global leaders and calls for major policy changes to bring the pandemic to an end and ensure it cannot happen again. The panel was chaired by Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia.

The report found 'weak links at every point in the chain', according to The Guardian, and said the preparation was inconsistent and underfunded. It also remarked that the alert system was too slow and weak and WHO was hugely underpowered.

“Global political leadership was absent,” the report said, quoted by The Guardian. The panel also believed that the emergency which was declared on January 30 2020, should have been done by 22 January instead, as every day counts.

The report was commissioned by the WHO director-general at the instigation of member states, who called at the World Health Assembly in May last year for an impartial review of what happened and what could be learned from the pandemic.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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February- Lost Month of Opportunity 

According to the report, the month of February 2020 was the time when nations could have geared up to avert the pandemic or at least its severity, but instead, so many countries chose to wait and see. Hence a month of lost opportunities.

According to Sirleaf urgent action should have been taken and that many reviews of previous health crises were available with sensible recommendation, as guidance. However they 'sat gathering dust in UN basements and on government shelves'. The report showed that most countries were simply not prepared for a pandemic, she said.

She also remarked that while the Chinese promptly identified the new virus and gave warnings in late December 2019, none of it was taken seriously.

The report says the Chinese detected and identified the new virus promptly when it emerged at the end of 2019 and gave warnings that should have been heeded.

An alert was sent out in Wuhan about a potentially new virus, which was “picked up quickly by neighbouring areas, countries, the media – on an online disease reporting site – and by the WHO,” she said, quoted by The Guardian.

“This shows the benefit and speed of open-source reporting, but then the systems that were meant to validate and respond to this alert were too slow. The alert system does not operate with sufficient speed when faced with a fast-moving respiratory pathogen.”

The report also drew attention to the fact that the WHO was hindered and not helped by international health regulations and procedures.

The regulations that govern when the WHO can declare a public health emergency of international concern were adopted in 2007. They bind WHO to confidentiality and verification, preventing rapid action, and prohibit countries from unnecessarily closing their borders against trade.

Recommendations

The panel calls for a faster-moving, better resourced WHO. They also wish for a commitment from leaders of affluent countries to supply vaccines to the rest of the world.

High-income countries with enough vaccines ordered for their own needs must commit to providing at least 1 billion doses by  September 1 to Covax, the UN-backed initiative to get vaccines to 92 low and middle-income countries, and more than 2 billion doses by mid-2022.

The report recommends the creation of a “global health threats council”, to be led by heads of state, to keep attention on the threats of pandemics between emergencies and ensure collective action.
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