WHO calls for health worker protection against COVID-19

Two healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment
Two healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment

Eric Sales, Asian Development Bank / Flickr cc

At a media briefing today, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an urgent call to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19 and other health threats based on new data. He also pressed nations and pharmaceutical companies for more access to COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

Health worker vaccination lags in poorer nations

The call for better protection for health workers comes in the wake of data from a new WHO working paper that estimates 80,000 to 180,000 health workers died from COVID-19 in the first 17 months of the pandemic. The WHO-led urgent call for action was also backed by partner groups, such as the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, the International Council of Nurses, and the World Medical Association.

At today's briefing, Tedros said the estimate shows why health workers are prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination.

He added that while data from 119 countries shows two in five healthcare workers are fully vaccinated, the average masks a wide difference across regions and economic groups. In Africa, for example, less than 1 in 10 health workers are fully vaccinated, compare to 80% vaccination among their peers in high-income countries, Tedros said.

In their call for action, the groups also urged countries to improve tracking and reporting of infections and deaths in health workers and ensure that they are supported with safe working conditions and compensation.

Obstacles to vaccine equity

Also at today's briefing and ahead of the upcoming G20 leaders meeting in Rome, Tedros again pushed for more vaccine equity, emphasizing that the number of booster shots given in upper-income countries have now outstripped the number of vaccine doses given in lower-income countries.

He also said in the 10 days before the G20 meeting starts, 500 million vaccine doses will be produced, which would be enough to reach the target of immunizing 40% of every country's population by the end of the year.

"The barrier is not production. The barriers are politics and profit," he said, noting that only 150 million of 1.2 billion pledged doses have been delivered. Global groups have no timelines from countries or quantity estimates from manufacturers for COVAX buying and planning purposes, he added.

More global headlines

  • The WHO said today that its COVID-19 emergency committee will meet tomorrow for the ninth time to discuss the latest developments, assess if the situation still warrants a public health emergency of international concern, and make any needed changes to its temporary recommendations. The group typically meets every 3 months or more often as needed. The group's last meeting was held in the middle of July.

  • Russia today reported record daily highs for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and officials in Moscow ordered restaurants, movie theaters, and retail stores to be closed starting next week, according to the Associated Press. Earlier this week, the country announced a week-long work closure to begin on Oct 30, and President Vladimir Putin is encouraging more people to be vaccinated.

  • New Zealand today reported a daily record high, as the Delta (B1617.2) variant spreads mainly in Auckland and as officials step-up vaccination, according to Reuters.

  • China today reported 13 more local cases from the provinces of Gansu (5), Ningxia Hui (4), Inner Mongolia (2), and Hubei (2). A lockdown has been ordered for a third town in Inner Mongolia, according to Reuters, which said the latest cluster mostly involves locations in the country's north and northwest.

  • The global total today passed 242 million cases, rising to 242,288,846 cases, along with 4,925,854 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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