PAHO: If the end of the pandemic is declared, new variants could emerge

Mexico has the absolute freedom to declare the end of the health emergency due to covid-19 in its own territory, even though for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) “it is not yet the time to lower our guard, because new variants may appear. more virulent and deadly,” said Ciro Ugarte, director of Health Emergencies of the international organization.

When questioned about Mexico’s attempt to declare the end of the health emergency by May, when most adults over 18 years of age have already been vaccinated, Ciro Ugarte considered that all countries have the right and responsibility to apply their own health legislation.

But he warned that the pandemic, neither in the region nor in the world, has stopped causing millions of infections and deaths from the coronavirus.

“If the country has low community transmission, high response capacity, high vaccination coverage, a very low number of deaths and a number of few cases that are actively being detected as positive; then we are in a position to be able, perhaps, in some countries, to declare the end of the emergency.

The emergency has internal considerations in the countries that, depending on their legislation, may restrict some freedoms and some community processes that have an economic and social impact. They are two aspects that must be put on the scale, ”he explained.

At the moment, “as a region or as a world, we have not yet reached the levels (of immunization) to prevent this virus from continuing to cause cases of contagion and deaths. There are still millions of cases and dozens of deaths every week.

The only way to end this acute phase, he said, is with high vaccination coverage, vigilance and good clinical management.

“Based on the information that we already have and the scenarios that Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, (PAHO director) put forward, it is still better to have a very close vigil because it is very likely that the variants will continue to appear and, in the best scenario, these variants will cause less severity and it will not be necessary to administer booster doses or develop new vaccines.

But in the worst case scenario, a more virulent and highly transmissible variant will appear, and in the face of this new threat, protection against severe disease and death from infection can rapidly diminish the effectiveness of vaccines and treatment,” he warned.

In this context, there is no clear and specific answer, he assured. All doubts are being analyzed by the committee of experts on international health regulations and other levels of the World Health Organization (WHO) in close contact with the countries. And each country, when adopting measures to relax or increase protection measures for personnel and the population at risk, has to take into account that this is a dynamic process and that it does not depend on a single country, but on the collaboration of all those who report the appearance of new variants.

Also, he clarified that the declaration of the end of the health emergency in each country in no way means that the covid-19 pandemic, declared by the WHO, has disappeared.

“The end of the pandemic does not correspond to a country. The end of a health emergency declared by the country in the face of a disease or any other event, of course, corresponds to each country,” Ciro Ugarte specified.

Currently, he said, the WHO Emergency Committee unanimously agreed that covid-19 remains a public health emergency of international importance.

And that same committee of experts, he clarified, is studying the necessary criteria to declare the end of the public health emergency of international importance, including the characteristics and impact of the virus.

If you consider “the number of countries and regions that are being affected and also the number and level of transmissions; the response capacity of the countries. For now, we still have a long way to go. We are still in the phase of making an effort to end this virus and continue vaccinating.

“We have not yet reached the levels as a region or as a world so that this virus does not continue to cause cases of contagion and deaths, there are still millions of cases and dozens of deaths each week,” he explained.

For the specialist, there are still cases that have not been properly reported and that could set back everything that has been achieved and achieved so far. Therefore, the suggestion to maintain surveillance and non-therapeutic protection measures.