COVID-19 still a public health emergency, says WHO: 5 updates

The World Health Organization has determined COVID-19 remains a public health emergency. The agency's director-general accepted the recommendations of its emergency committee on Jan. 30. 

The WHO's emergency committee convened Jan. 27 to vote on whether the pandemic still constitutes the global emergency declaration. Members cited a high number of global deaths compared to other respiratory diseases, low vaccine uptake in low- and middle-income countries, and uncertainty surrounding emerging variants amid a drop in surveillance and sequencing. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director-general, concurred with the committee's advice and acknowledged the pandemic is "probably at a transition point" — a period the WHO says must be navigated carefully to mitigate further negative consequences. 

The committee also recommended the agency work with stakeholders on a proposal for how to maintain focus on COVID-19 once the emergency declaration is terminated. 

Four more COVID-19 updates: 

1. In the absence of effective antibodies, the CDC is urging those with weak immune systems to take precautions. On Jan. 27, the agency released guidance recommending those with immunocompromising conditions to develop a COVID-19 "action plan." In addition to vaccination, the guidance includes spending more time outdoors, masking and social distancing in crowded spaces, and seeking treatment within the first few days of symptom onset. The guidance came a day after the FDA revoked its emergency use authorization of the monoclonal antibody Evusheld after finding it's ineffective against the majority of circulating variants. 

2. The CDC has started tracking a new omicron subvariant, CH.1.1. It's a descendent of BA.2.75 and is estimated to account for 1.5 percent of cases in the U.S., Fortune reported Jan. 27. Not much is known about the strain, though it has similar properties to some of the other highly transmissible members of the omicron family. It was first detected in Southeast Asia in the fall months, with early estimates indicating it accounts for more than a quarter of infections in the U.K. and New Zealand. 

3. All COVID-19 vaccines should be targeted to the original and dominant strains, an FDA advisory panel said Jan. 26, but members debated whether a new modified vaccine every 12 months is optimal. The final decision to greenlight adapted COVID-19 shots in the future is up to the FDA and CDC.

4. Cases and hospitalizations continue to fall in the U.S., even as XBB.1.5 grew to account for 51.3 percent of all infections. As of Jan. 25, the nation's seven-day case average was 42,163, an 11.3 percent decrease from the previous week's average The seven-day hospitalization average for Jan. 18-24 was 4,216, a 13.9 percent decrease from the previous week's average. 


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