WHO does not envisage COVID-19 vaccines being made mandatory

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    GENEVA/ZURICH. – The World Health Organization does not foresee mandatory vaccinations being introduced around the world to stem the spread of the coronavirus, officials said on Monday.

    Information campaigns and making vaccines available to priority groups such as hospital workers and the elderly would be more effective, the WHO said, as the global death toll has topped 1.5 million, according to Reuters calculations.

    Britain begins its vaccine program this week and others are likely to follow soon, so authorities are seeking to reassure people of vaccines’ safety and efficacy in order to get a critical mass to take them in the face of what experts say are conspiracy theories entering the mainstream.

    “I don’t think we envisage any countries creating a mandate for vaccinations, “ Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization vaccines and biologicals, told a news conference.

    “There may be some countries or some situations in countries where professional circumstances require it or highly recommend to be vaccinated,” she added, saying hospitals might be one such instance.

    The WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, added: “We are much better served to present people with the data, present people with the benefits and let people make up their own minds, within reason.”

    Even when vaccines were developed, research must continue O’Brien said, saying many vaccines for other diseases had been improved over time.

    The WHO was still waiting to start discussions with the incoming Joe Biden administration in the United States, which was suffering a “punishing” pandemic, Ryan said. Under President Donald Trump, top donor the United States announced its withdrawal from the body.

    The WHO is also still waiting to visit China to study the origins of the coronavirus. “We are planning and hope to be on the ground as soon as possible,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

    Meanwhile, a year into a global battle against the coronavirus, the United Nations General Assembly on Monday declared Dec. 27 will be the “International Day of Epidemic Preparedness” in a bid to ensure lessons are learned for any future health crises.

    The COVID-19 virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and spread globally, so far infecting more than 66 million people and killing some 1.5 million. The World Health Organization (WHO) called it a pandemic in March, a declaration that the United States and others said came too late.

    The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus on Monday that recognizes the need “to raise the level of preparedness in order to have the earliest and most adequate response to any epidemic that may arise.”

    “Given that the General Assembly has previously declared international days devoted to chess, yoga and toilets it only seems fair that epidemics should have their day too,” said International Crisis Group UN director Richard Gowan.

    He described the symbolic move as an attempt by the General Assembly to appear relevant as “a lot of smaller and poorer states worry that they won’t have any part in real decisions about the coronavirus vaccine or recovery.”

    The UN resolution stresses the importance of international cooperation and multilateralism.