COVID-19 No Longer Constitutes a Public Health Emergency, WHO Says


While acknowledging remaining uncertainties posed by potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the organization advised it’s time to transition to long-term management of the pandemic.

Days before the United States is set to have the federal COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) expire on May 11, 2023, COVID-19 has been deemed an established and ongoing health issue by the World Health Organization, and will no longer be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the organization announced Friday in a statement.1

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, met with the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) Emergency Committee Thursday, May 4, where he concurred with committee advice regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the 15th IHR Emergency Committee meeting, Ghebreyesus noted continually decreasing numbers regarding weekly reported deaths and hospitalizations but expressed concern that surveillance reporting to WHO has declined significantly. Further, he addressed there continues to be inequitable access to life-saving interventions and pandemic fatigue is growing. Designed to guide countries in transitioning to long-term management of COVID-19, Ghebreyesus announced the publication of the 2023-2025 COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

In the statement, WHO notes, “While the global risk assessment remains high, there is evidence of reducing risks to human health driven mainly by high population-level immunity from infection, vaccination, or both; consistent virulence of currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 Omicron sub-lineages compared to previously circulating Omicron sub-lineages; and improved clinical case management.” The organization stated these factors have contributed to a significant global decline of weekly COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations, and admissions to ICUs since the onset of the pandemic. Though SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, variants that are currently circulating do not appear to be associated with increased severity, WHO states.

The termination of the PHEIC should not affect access to vaccines and diagnostics that have already received emergency use listed (EUL). Further, states parties will be able to access vaccines and diagnostics, so long as manufacturers continue production. COVAX will also continue to provide funded doses and delivery support throughout 2023 in line with demand. The committee recognized that Ghebreyesus may convene an IHR emergency committee related to COVID-19 in the future if the situation requires one.

The statement read, “While the PHEIC has been a valuable instrument to support the global response to COVID-19, the Committee agreed that the time is right to move towards the long-term management of SARS-CoV-2 as an ongoing health issue.”

Contemporary Pediatrics will have coverage of the expected May 11, 2023, United States COVID-19 PHE expiration with expert analysis, and how it could impact pediatric health care.

This article originally appeared on Contemporary Pediatrics.

1. Statement on the fifteenth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. World Health Organization. May 5, 2023. Accessed May 5, 2023.
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