“Whole-of-society” and “whole-of-government” actions must be taken to end the COVID-19 public health threat, according to a large multidisciplinary panel of experts from over 100 countries.
In total, the group developed 41 consensus statements and 57 recommendations broken down into six primary categories, including communication, health systems, vaccination, prevention, treatment and care, and pandemic inequities, noted Jeffrey Lazarus, PhD, MIH, of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain, and co-authors in Nature.
Despite improvements in the global response to the pandemic, including extensive research and development of preventive measures and treatments, the public health efforts to end the pandemic have varied considerably for each country, due partially to “misinformation, unequal distribution of vaccines and treatments, and inconsistent global coordination,” they said in a press release.
During a panel discussion on Tuesday, Lazarus and other panel members explained the development of these recommendations and their hopes for impact.
“We’re at a time when many people, including political leaders, believe the pandemic is over or coming to an end,” Lazarus said. “And yet variants of concern, persistent infections, still-high mortality, and the lottery-like specter of long COVID demonstrate … that we’ve not ended COVID-19 as a public health threat. We sincerely hope decision makers throughout government, health systems, and industry will benefit from our work to end this threat.”
“Most importantly, our top-ranked recommendations must be implemented,” he continued. “They are a whole-of-society and a whole-of-government approach, along with a vaccines-plus approach, which means prevention measures that include and go beyond vaccination. We can do this. We should, and we must.”
The panel largely focused on trust in governments, the consequences of misinformation, and the dissemination of large volumes of new COVID-related information, noting that “governments themselves may be a source of misinformation.”
To tackle these issues, the panel called for improved collaboration between community leaders, scientific experts, and public health officials “to develop public health messages that build and enhance individual and community trust.” They also urged more partnerships between public health officials and individuals or organizations that are trusted within their communities to facilitate accurate and accessible communication.
One other approach to combat false information is to encourage public health officials to use “clear, direct, culturally responsive messaging that is free of unnecessary scientific jargon,” they said.
The panel also recommended that researchers and developers work together with social media companies “to implement controls for their platforms that reduce publication and dissemination of false health information.”
In addition, the panelists called for more attention to be paid to disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations, emphasizing the need for high-income countries to fund equitable access to vaccines and treatments for lower-income countries.
“There are many situations … where the economic impact of the pandemic on people’s daily lives was not appreciated enough or expressed enough by policymakers and people felt that they were expected to make sacrifices without the better understanding of their needs or without catering to their daily needs and those of their families,” said Ayman El-Mohandes, MBBCh, MD, MPH, dean of the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, during the panel discussion.
To create the recommendations, the panel used the Delphi process, a review and revision method that produced strong foundational statements and actions that governments and organizations can use to develop country-specific policies designed to end the pandemic, as well as to tackle the emergence of long COVID.
The panel included 386 experts, such as community leaders, scientific experts, and public health officials from different areas of expertise, cultures, and opinions.
While the list of recommendations is extensive, they noted, they were developed in a way to promote widespread adoption and implementation across the world.
“These recommendations will be taken to the next level by policymakers and by implementers of programs,” El-Mohandes explained. “This is not the last point. This is to stimulate the next level where many of these recommendations can be [turned into] action.”
Lazarus reported research grants to his institution from AbbVie, Gilead Sciences, and MSD; speaker fees from AbbVie, Gilead Sciences, Intercept, Janssen, MSD, and ViiV; and advisory board fees from AbbVie and Novavax, all unrelated to this work.
El-Mohandes reported no disclosures.