The worst of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the deaths, hospitalizations and social restrictions, could end this year if the nations address vaccine inequities, the head of emergencies at the World Health Organization's (WHO) said Tuesday.
"We won't end the virus this year, we won't ever end the virus--what we can end is the public health emergency," said Dr. Michael Ryan, speaking at the World Economic Forum's virtual Davos event panel.
Ryan said that it is possible for 2022 to become the world's turning point in the pandemic, due to the availability of effective vaccine and medicines which help stop COVID infections from progressing beyond mild disease.
"Yes, we have a chance to end the public health emergency this year," Ryan told the panel, but only if nations of the world work to end global vaccine inequity and access to better COVID treatments. "It won't end if we don't [address these issues], this tragedy will continue."
Since the global rollout of COVID vaccines last year, the WHO has criticised wealthier nations for vaccinating their entire adult populations while failing to distribute adequate doses to poorer nations; fewer than 10% of people in lower-income countries have received even one dose of vaccine while nations like the United States have fully vaccinated over 60% of their entire population.
The WHO has further condemned wealthier nations for rolling out third doses, or booster shots, to their healthy adult populations instead of distributing them to more vulnerable people abroad.
However, Ryan said that ending vaccine inequity does not mean that more vulnerable people in wealthy nations should not receive booster dose as needed, adding that the world needs to focus on those with worse potential outcomes from getting infected or reinfected.
"There are those in high-income countries who will require a third dose. It doesn't matter what country you're in, everyone should be able to get that primary course," Ryan told the panel. "As knowledge develops, we may end up in a future where the primary course for a vulnerable person will be three or four doses to get long-lasting, robust immunity."