PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
20 January 2023
Safety of COVID-19 Vaccinations and Disruptions to Routine Immunisation
Kate O’Brien, Director, Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, World Health Organization (WHO), addressed recent concerns appearing in the press and social media concerning COVID-19 vaccines. She stressed that COVID-19 vaccines were highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, but less effective at preventing people from getting infected and from transmitting to somebody else. It was highly important that all persons, and particularly those persons in high priority groups such as people over 60, pregnant women and health workers, received all recommended doses of the vaccination.
WHO was continuing to support research and development into new vaccines, including non-injection vaccines, to prevent more of the transmissions and strains of the disease.
There had recently been concerns raised in the press about side effects of mRNA vaccines, particularly regarding whether they increased the risk of stroke. A “safety signal” had emerged in one of the United States databases on the Pfizer COVID-19 mRNA booster vaccine. This had fuelled concerns and misinformation about deaths related to COVID-19 infections. However, WHO’s evaluation of reports and safety monitoring systems had not found evidence to substantiate the signal around mRNA vaccines and strokes.
WHO was aware that there was a risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. This was a highly rare side effect of mRNA vaccines that was typically mild and responsive to treatment. It was a much less serious form of myocarditis compared with forms not associated with COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 disease itself was associated with a risk of poor heart health, including strokes, pulmonary embolism and heart attacks.
WHO’s advice remained that the benefits of vaccinations continued to greatly outweigh the risks.
Regarding routine immunisations, Dr. O’Brien said that in 2021, 25 million children did not receive a single dose of routine vaccinations for life-threatening diseases, following 20 million in 2020. WHO was committing to intensifying vaccination activities in 2023 to deliver vaccines to all persons who needed them.
Responding to questions, Ms. O’Brien said that WHO had many different mechanisms for monitoring the safety of vaccines. Safety databases were open to anyone to reported side effects from vaccines. There was a significant amount of noise within the data. Trends that emerged out of that noise were referred to as “safety signals”. WHO analysed these “safety signals” carefully. On this occasion, it had not found substantive evidence showing that mRNA booster vaccines were unsafe.
WHO was urging China and all countries to release data on routine immunisation coverage. Such data had been reported regularly by many countries during the pandemic, but many countries were now backsliding on data reporting.
Vaccine manufacturers were required to provide data to WHO that proved that the vaccines should be added to or removed from its “emergency use listing” category. WHO was interested in the potential of nasal and oral vaccines, but thus far no such vaccines had been submitted for “emergency use listing” qualification.
There was no evidence on the performance of existing vaccines on the XBB 1.5 strain of COVID-19. WHO would review data on performance when it was released. There was also currently no data on whether bivalent vaccines were more effective than ancestral vaccines. Both varieties were recommended by WHO.
Launch of Rapid Rural Transformation Initiative in Madagascar
Tomson Phiri for the World Food Programme (WFP) said it was cyclone season in the north of Madagascar, while the south was experiencing drought conditions. The food situation had improved, but people’s food security remained vulnerable.
WFP and the Madagascar Government had launched an innovative programme, the Rapid Rural Transformation Initiative, that sought to develop rural communities in Androy and Anosy regions in southern Madagascar.
Under the initiative, WFP and partners were establishing solar-powered hubs, a sustainable water source and information communications technology in remote areas, allowing for the provision of essential services such as energy, water, and digital platforms to members of the community, in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner.
The hubs allowed various partners to set up integrated community services such as training centres for women and youth on food production and business skills, as well as digital classrooms, while enhancing agricultural production through solar-powered drip irrigation and hydroponics.
More information about the initiative here.
In response to questions, Mr. Phiri said that the south of Madagascar had a serious infrastructure deficit. Women in villages in the south were now able to consult with medical practitioners remotely through these digital hubs. Local women had commended the initiative, saying that it was more welcome that food packages.
UN Humanitarian Convoy Approaching Soledar in Eastern Ukraine
Jens Laerke for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that an interagency aid convoy had reached an area close to Soledar in Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine. This was the first interagency convey to reach the area since the war began. It would provide support to 800 civilians.
Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke said that the area was controlled by the Government of Ukraine. The convoy was carrying food, water, hygiene kits and medical supplies. The region had seen its fair share of hostilities and people there were in dire need of medical support. It was a three-truck convoy. Movement started in Dnipro and once aid was distributed, the convoy would return to Dnipro.
Planning of convoy deliveries to areas to which OCHA had access was a constant process. Aid was delivered as it was needed in each region. Humanitarian aid was delivered exclusively to civilians. Delivery of a convoy to Soledar itself was dependent on the situation on the ground.
Expert Focus Group on the Metaverse Assembles
David Hirsch for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said that ITU had established an expert technical focus group that would work toward developing international technical standards for the metaverse. The metaverse focus group would be active for one year. It would conduct pre-standardisation work as a basis for developing new ITU standards.
More information on the focus group can be found in this ITU press release.
In response to questions, Mr. Hirsch said that this was a new, potentially exciting space that some industry analysts expected to reach USD 800 billion dollars in value by 2024. The groundwork of the technical group would help to create an underlying technology and business ecosystem that would encourage market energy and cost efficiency. ITU was working to ensure that the metaverse was interoperable, available for all, and that it benefitted all. The ITU’s overall approach was to use technology for good.
Catherine Huissoud for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that on Monday, 23 January, UNCTAD would welcome the Minister of Finance and Public Credit of Colombia, José Antonio Ocampo, who would give the prestigious Raul Prebisch Lecture, the 18th in the series. At Prebisch Lectures, important economic and policy analysis was delivered by leading economists and thinkers. Journalists could register to attend the meeting online.
On Tuesday 24 January, UNCTAD and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) would present the 2023 issue of the World Economic and Social Prospects report. This report was annually produced by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with contributions from regional commissions and UNCTAD. Richard Kozul-Wright for UNCTAD and Jose Palacin for UNECE would be on the podium to present the global economic situation as well as a more European perspective.
Christian Lindmeier for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that on Monday, 23 January at 2 p.m., WHO would launch its Global Health Emergency Appeal for 2023. It would be one of the largest appeals made by WHO to date. WHO was calling for donors in the beginning of the year to prevent stress on resources in the latter half of the year. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and Gordon Brown, WHO Ambassador for Global Health Financing, would attend the launch.
A new WHO report, Global Trans Fat Elimination 2022, would also be launched on Monday at 3:30 p.m. A press briefing to announce the launch would be held on Friday, 20 January at 4 p.m.
Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the Television, Radio and Webcast Section within the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, announced that on Tuesday, 24 January at 12 p.m., the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would hold a press conference to launch its UNRWA Annual Appeal for 2023. Speaking would be Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA.
Also on Tuesday, 24 January, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs would hold a briefing to present its World Economic Situation and Prospects 2023 report. The report was under embargo until Wednesday, 25 January at 6 p.m. Speaking at the briefing would be Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, UNCTAD, and José Palacín, Senior Economist, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which opened its 92nd session this week, would conclude this afternoon the review of the report of Bolivia. It would assess the reports of Azerbaijan, Ireland and New Zealand next week.
The Conference on Disarmament would officially open its 2023 annual session next week, under the presidency of Egypt. It would hold its first public plenary of its 2023 session on Tuesday, 24 January, at 10 a.m. in room XIX of the Palais des Nations. Public meetings could be followed in-person or through listen-live.unog.ch.