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WHO expects to declare an end to COVID-19 pandemic in 2023

The World Health Organization said Friday that it expects to be able to declare an end to the COVID-19 pandemic sometime in 2023 as the illness becomes more like seasonal flu.

“A threat to health, a virus that will continue to kill — but a virus that is not disrupting our society or disrupting our hospital systems, and I believe that that will come,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.

The news comes a week after the three-year anniversary of the WHO’s original declaration of a global pandemic — and on a day when fresh evidence emerged suggesting that the virus resulted from animal-to-human transmission and did not escape from a Chinese laboratory, as the Associated Press reported.

A group of scientists examined genetic data from samples collected at a market close to where the first human cases of COVID-19 were detected in the city of Wuhan. The samples were not previously available but were found by a French biologist who spotted them after they were uploaded to the world’s biggest public virus database by in late January by scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The data have since been removed from the database.

“These data do not provide a definitive answer to how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important to moving us closer to that answer,” Tedros told reporters.

He also criticized China for not sharing the genetic information earlier, adding that “this data could have and should have been shared three years ago.”

The news comes a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci, former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show that most of the information from Wuhan suggested the virus came from an animal.

Like Tedros, Fauci emphasized that the origin of the virus was still not definitively proven and that scientists should keep an open mind.

“Rather than fighting about it, we should try and absolutely find out which it is,” he said. “But in the meantime, do whatever you can to prevent either option from happening again.”

Fauci also highlighted the importance of Americans keeping up with vaccination against COVID and lamented that fewer than 20% of those eligible for the updated boosters that target the omicron subvariant and its many sublineages along with the original virus have gotten that shot.

“We’ve got to do better than that,” he said, especially as the daily death toll is still around 400 and sometimes as high as 500.

“We know that if you compare unvaccinated people with vaccinated people, with regard to hospitalizations and death, there is an overwhelming and dramatic difference of a greater likelihood of hospitalization and death among the unvaccinated,” he said.

Boosted people have the best protection against severe disease, while unvaccinated people are still at risk of preventable death.

Fauci also said he expects vaccination to become an intermittent event, much like the flu vaccine, which people get once a year.

Don’t miss: How a nasal vaccine could reduce the risk of COVID infections — and new variants

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Deaths of pregnant women in the U.S. fell in 2022, dropping significantly from a six-decade high during the pandemic, new data suggests, the AP reported. More than 1,200 U.S. women died in 2021 due to causes related to pregnancy or childbirth, according to a final tally released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022, there were 733 maternal deaths, according to preliminary agency data, although the final number is likely to be higher.

• China reopened its borders to tourists and resumed issuing all visas this week as it tries to revive tourism and its economy following a three-year halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, the AP reported. China is one of the last major countries to reopen its borders to tourists. The announcement Tuesday came after the country declared a “decisive victory” over COVID-19 in February.

• A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 16-1 on Thursday to advise that the benefits of Pfizer’s


COVID antiviral Paxlovid outweigh the risks in adults who are at high risk of severe disease. The FDA is not required to follow the advice of the committee but often does. Paxlovid, which received emergency-use authorization in December 2021, can be prescribed to teens and adults who are at high risk of progressing to severe disease. “We are encouraged by the AMDAC’s positive vote today,” James Rusnak, chief development officer of the internal medicine, anti-infectives and hospital business at Pfizer, said in a statement. “The outcome is well supported by the strong safety and efficacy data seen both in our clinical trials and in a growing base of real-world evidence.” 

• The FDA said this week that children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years can now get a booster dose of BioNTech


and Pfizer’s COVID-19 bivalent vaccine. The shot should come no sooner than two months after the primary series of three shots and is for children who received the primary series of three original shots. Since December, some children have been able to receive the bivalent shot as the third injection in their primary series.

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