The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated his belief that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic was in sight, but cautioned that there were still large vaccination gaps across the world and that the risk of new variants emerging was still present.
"We have spent two-and-a-half years in a long, dark tunnel, and we are just beginning to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. But it is still a long way off, and the tunnel is still dark, with many obstacles that could trip us up if we don't take care," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing on Thursday.
The WHO chief's comments come after he said that the end was in sight at a press conference last week. Two days ago, a European drug regulator official also warned that the pandemic was ongoing in Europe ahead of a planned fall and winter inoculation campaign.
In contrast, U.S. President Joe Biden last week had said that the "pandemic is over" during a 60 Minutes interview.
In many higher-income countries such as the U.S., UK and member states of the European Union, weekly coronavirus cases and deaths continue to decline, with everyday-life starting to look like pre-pandemic times. Globally, there have been more than 610M confirmed cases and 6.5M deaths due to the virus.
However, though worldwide population-level immunity has improved largely due to the administration of more than 12.6B COVID vaccine doses, low- and middle-income countries in particular as still lagging in terms of immunization rates.
"The refrain of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that no one is safe until everyone is safe... That's still not the case. Just 19% of the population of low-income countries is vaccinated, and access to life-saving treatments is virtually non-existent," Ghebreyesus said in the briefing.
The Director-General welcomed U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) agreement to supply up to 6M treatment courses of its COVID antiviral pill Paxlovid to Global Fund so as to facilitate its availability to low- and middle-income countries.
"This is the kind of action that is needed if we are truly to end the COVID-19 pandemic," Ghebreyesus said.
Leading COVID-19 vaccine makers: Pfizer (PFE), BioNTech (BNTX), Moderna (MRNA), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Novavax (NVAX), AstraZeneca (AZN), Sinovac Biotech, Sinopharm Group (OTCPK:SHTDF) (OTCPK:SHTDY), CanSino Biologics (OTCPK:CASBF)