Covid-19 still a dangerous global health threat - WHO

It says virus remains deadly with the capacity to cause substantial damage

In Summary

•WHO made the announcement on Monday, on the third year anniversary since it raised this level of alarm in 2020.

•Last week, local experts said Kenya achieved herd immunity for Covid-19 early last year, despite the low levels of vaccination.

Covid-19 vaccination in progress.
Covid-19 vaccination in progress.
Image: FILE

World Health Organization has maintained Covid-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO said it's the highest level of disease alarm – even though deaths have fallen drastically around the world.

The organisation made the announcement on Monday, the third year anniversary since it raised this level of alarm in 2020.

The disease has killed seven million people around the world.

In Kenya, no deaths have been reported this year.

“No fatalities were recorded during the period under review so the cumulative fatalities remain at 5,688,” Health CS Susan Nakhumicha said.

WHO said the decision to maintain PHEIC was made by its International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee on Monday.

“The committee agreed that Covid-19 remains a dangerous infectious disease with the capacity to cause substantial damage to health and health systems,” WHO said in a statement.

“The committee, therefore, recommended that WHO, in consultation with partners and stakeholders, should develop a proposal for alternative mechanisms to maintain the global and national focus on Covid-19 after the PHEIC is terminated.”

The committee advised countries to not require proof of vaccination against Covid-19 as a prerequisite for international travel.

It also called for more vaccination to achieve 100 per cent coverage of high-priority groups with booster doses.  

Last week, local experts said Kenya achieved herd immunity for Covid-19 early last year, despite the low levels of vaccination.

Acting director general for Health Patrick Amoth and several other researchers said Kenya achieved herd immunity mainly through natural infections because few people are fully vaccinated against the disease.

“Despite vaccine inequity, hesitancy and refusal, herd immunity had been achieved in Kenya and likely other African countries by early 2022, with natural infections likely contributing to most of this immunity,” they said.

But this does not mean people should stop taking Covid-19 vaccines, they said.

“Vaccine campaigns should be sustained due to the need for repeat boosters associated with the waning of SARS-CoV-2 immunity and emergence of immune-evading virus variants,” they said. 

The other researchers are from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Washington State University Kenya programme, US’s Emory University, KAVI-Institute for Clinical Research and Nairobi and Kakamega county governments.

They tested 1,565 participants for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Nairobi and Kakamega counties in January and February 2022.

They found that nearly everyone in Nairobi had Covid-19 antibodies.

This was despite low levels (less than 55 per cent) of vaccine uptake nationally and high levels (16–20 per cent) of vaccine refusal among the two populations.

“Widespread SARS-CoV-2 transmission across all communities in the country is the most plausible explanation for this herd immunity, an argument supported by the findings of significantly higher seroprevalence in urban (97.8 per cent) than rural (85.9 per cent) populations,” they said.

Their findings were reported last week in the Vaccines journal, under the title 'Near-Complete SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence among Rural and Urban Kenyans despite Significant Vaccine Hesitancy and Refusal.'

Scientists projected that at least 70 per cent of the population needed to be immunised against SARS-CoV-2 to achieve the herd immunity needed to break virus transmission.

The World Health Organization had warned against herd immunity through natural infection several times because it could lead to many deaths.

However, rich countries hoarded vaccine supplies in 2021 and developing countries such as Kenya were unable to secure sufficient doses.

According to Health CS Susan Nakhumicha, 5,688 people in Kenya have been killed by the disease since 2020 but no deaths have been reported since December last year. 

(Edited by Tabnacha O)

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