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Doublespeak and disarray at the WHO

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THE World Health Organisation has issued an ‘Interim Statement on Covid-19 vaccines in the context of the circulation of the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 Variant from the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC)’.

The document contains an extraordinary juxtaposition of contradictory information which points to disagreements and confusion at the WHO:

‘. . . current Covid-19 vaccines continue to provide high levels of protection against severe disease and death, even in the context of the circulation of Omicron’ (even though severe disease and death rates from Omicron are significantly lower than flu and almost exclusively involve patients already seriously ill from other conditions).

Immediately followed by:

‘. . . to ensure Covid-19 vaccines provide optimal protection into the future, they may need to be updated . . . particularly for groups at risk of developing severe disease . . . but the timeframe for their development and production is uncertain.’

Then:

‘The TAG-CO-VAC continues to encourage Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers to generate and provide data to WHO on performance of current and variant-specific Covid-19 vaccines . . . but robust data on the global immunologic landscape is limited.’

Followed by:

‘The TAG-CO-VAC recognises the independent role and procedures of relevant regulatory authorities in establishing the necessary requirements for evaluation under the currently established regulatory pathways.’

This doublespeak needs interpretation. Perhaps the WHO meant to say that the current Covid-19 vaccines do not work and we have no idea when, if ever, effective ones will be developed, but they refrained from doing so because the WHO religion requires that nothing can be said if it might lead to vaccine hesitancy. 

Perhaps they meant to say that Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers have been giving us incomplete data, so we want to warn regulators to be more careful in future, and make up their own minds sensibly after independent research, but we can’t say that because a lot of health funding comes from vaccine manufacturers.

I can’t really tell you what is going on at the WHO, but it clearly requires copywriters who can convey mixed messages with great skill. No doubt the wise WHO Pandits with their global perspective are pondering the fact that published comparisons between different countries and areas do not show that higher levels of Covid-19 vaccination lead to lower infection and death rates. What they actually admit is: ‘There are heterogeneous levels of population immunity between countries.’

I am rather hoping that plain speaking will come back into fashion, but I am not sure that will happen any time soon at the WHO. In the meantime, governments such as ours still relying on WHO bulletins to inform their policies will need to employ skilled translators.

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Guy Hatchard
Guy Hatchard
Guy Hatchard PhD is a former senior manager at Genetic ID, a global food testing and certification company. He lives in New Zealand.

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