WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the COVID-19 media briefing – 27 July 2022 – World

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening.

As you know, on Saturday I declared a public health emergency of international concern over the global monkeypox outbreak.

More than 18 thousand cases of monkeypox have now been reported to WHO from 78 countries, with more than 70% of cases reported from the European Region, and 25% from the Region of the Americas.

So far, five deaths have been reported, and about 10% of cases are admitted to hospital to manage the pain caused by the disease.

This is an outbreak that can be stopped, if countries, communities and individuals inform themselves, take the seriously risks, and take the steps needed to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups.

The best way to do that is to reduce the risk of exposure. That means making safe choices for yourself and others.

For men who have sex with men, this includes, for the moment, reducing your number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up if needed.

The focus for all countries must be engaging and empowering communities of men who have sex with men to reduce the risk of infection and onward transmission, to provide care for those infected, and to safeguard human rights and dignity.

Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus, and can fuel the outbreak.

As we have seen with COVID-19, misinformation and disinformation can spread rapidly online, so we call on social media platforms, tech companies and news organizations to work with us to prevent and counter harmful information.

Although 98% of cases so far are among men who have sex with men, anyone exposed can get monkeypox, which is why WHO recommends that countries take action to reduce the risk of transmission to other vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and those who are immunosuppressed.

In addition to transmission through sexual contact, monkeypox can be spread in households through close contact between people, such as hugging and kissing, and on contaminated towels or bedding.

WHO recommends targeted vaccination for those exposed to someone with a monkeypox, and for those at high risk of exposure, including health workers, some laboratory workers, and those with multiple sexual partners. At this time, we do not recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox.

One smallpox vaccine, called MVA-BN, has been approved in Canada, the European Union and the US for use against monkeypox.

Two other vaccines, LC16 and ACAM2000, are also being considered for use against monkeypox.

However, we still lack data on the effectiveness of vaccines for monkeypox, or how many doses might be needed.

That’s why we urge all countries that are using vaccines to collect and share critical data on their effectiveness.

WHO is developing a research framework that countries can use to generate the data we need to better understand how these effective vaccines are in preventing both infection and disease, and how to use them most effectively.

It’s important to emphasise that vaccination will not give instant protection against infection or disease, and can take several weeks.

That means those vaccinated should continue to take measures to protect themselves, by avoiding close contact, including sex, with others who have or are at risk of having monkeypox.

There are also challenges with the availability of vaccines.

There are about 16 million doses of MVA-BN globally. Most are in bulk form, meaning they will take several months to “fill and finish” into vials that are ready to use.

Several countries with monkeypox cases have secured supplies of the MVA-BN vaccine, and WHO is in contact with other countries to understand their supply needs.

WHO urges countries with smallpox vaccines to share them with countries that don’t.

We must ensure equitable access to vaccines for all individuals and affected communities by monkeypox, in all countries, in all regions.

While vaccines will be an important tool, surveillance, diagnosis and risk reduction remain central to preventing transmission and stopping this outbreak.

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Meanwhile, although the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, we are now in a very different situation to where we were a year ago, and we have learned a number of important lessons.

One of the most important is that the effective way to save lives health systems and reopen societies and most protect is to vaccinate the right groups first.

Even in some countries that have reached 70% vaccination coverage, if significant numbers of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups remain unvaccinated, deaths will continue, health systems will remain under pressure and the global recovery will be at risk.

This is not theoretical, this is real.

COVID-19 deaths have been increasing for the last five weeks, and several countries are reporting increasing trends in hospitalizations following waves of transmission driven by Omicron subvariants.

Last week, WHO launched an update to the Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy, emphasizing the need to vaccinate the most at-risk groups, including 100% of health and care workers, 100% of older people and 100% of those at highest risk .

We continue to urge all countries to strive for the target of 70% vaccination coverage, with a focus on targeted vaccination strategies that prioritize the most vulnerable, which is the most effective way to save lives.

While vaccines have saved countless lives, they have not substantially reduced transmission.

So it’s vital for governments and the private sector to continue collaborating and investing in the development of new vaccines that prevent both infection and disease.

We also need vaccines that can be delivered more easily, such as through nasal sprays or drops.

Crucially, it’s essential as new vaccines and other COVID-19 tools are developed, they are available equitably to all countries.

In addition to vaccination, WHO urges all countries to assess and strengthen their readiness and response plans for future waves of transmission, including surveillance, testing, strong clinical management and a well-equipped health workforce.

Tarik, back to you.