Too soon to call end to COVID-19 emergency, GAVI chief says

GENEVA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The head of the GAVI global vaccine alliance suggested on Monday it was too early to call an end to the COVID-19 emergency, saying the pandemic could still get worse.

A World Health Organization (WHO) body meets every few months to decide whether the new coronavirus, which emerged three years ago in China's Wuhan, still represents a "public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)". The designation is intended to trigger a coordinated international response and could unlock funding to collaborate on sharing vaccines and treatments.

Asked whether the WHO should end the COVID-19 emergency phase at its Emergency Committee meeting in January, GAVI's Seth Berkley said the situation "could conceivably get worse".

"So I would guess you know that Dr. Tedros (WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus) is thinking about this global situation, which could conceivably get worse. It could get better. We don't know where it's going. It seems like a tough time to stop that emergency," he told reporters.

"We're done with the virus but the virus is not done with us," he added.

At the same news briefing, Berkley said he expected demand for COVID-19 vaccines to remain strong in 2023.

"We expect hundreds and hundreds of millions of doses to be requested. That's what countries are saying they want," he said.

A GAVI official said his comments were based on an ongoing dialogue with recipient countries about their needs for next year, of which about half have so far responded.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) is part of the COVAX facility which has provided around 1.9 billion doses to 146 countries.

A collapse in demand for COVID-19 vaccines has meant some countries have resorted to destroying once-prized shots. However, Berkley said COVAX wastage has only been 3% and GAVI was able to renegotiate contracts with manufacturers to match reduced demand earlier this year.

Reporting by Emma Farge, Editing by Paul Carrel, Mark Potter and Ed Osmond

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