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Vaccine Certificates Protect Lives, Ease Load on Health Systems, WHO in Russia Says

© AP Photo / Antonio CalanniMedical workers administer shots of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19, at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021
Medical workers administer shots of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19, at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.09.2021
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VLADIVOSTOK (Sputnik), Ekaterina Chukaeva - Vaccine certificates are very important for both individuals and healthcare systems, as they help track COVID-19 shot uptake rates and more effectively monitor adverse reactions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Russia, Melita Vujnovic, told Sputnik.
Travel restrictions and lockdown measures, introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19, have dealt a serious blow to the global tourism industry. Apart from requiring those arriving from abroad to present a negative COVID-19 test, several countries introduced a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. As a growing number of nations, including Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, have fully vaccinated over half of their populations, many governments are mulling the possibility of requiring vaccination certificates as part of their plan to gradually open borders to international travelers.
"It is important to mention that the main point is to protect people’s lives and ensure that health systems are not overburdened," Vujnovic, who is one of the key speakers at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) which opened in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Thursday, said.
The main use of the WHO vaccination certificate for travel, like in case of yellow fever, is to prevent a disease moving from a country where it is endemic into new areas, Vujnovic explained, adding that this is not "adequate" for COVID-19, as it is widespread.
"Vaccine certificates are not equal to vaccine 'passports' (paper based or digital) and they are very important both for individuals as a proof of health intervention, for health systems (monitoring the vaccination coverage and uptake and having effective pharmacovigilance in place – for the latter, it is important to have the series and batch of each doses of the vaccine)," she explained.
In June, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, Mike Ryan, said that the emergency committee was clear that the world health agency should not be recommending a requirement for vaccination as a condition for travel. This decision was made due to "the scarcity of vaccines" and "the fact there's such an inequity in distribution and uncertainties regarding the extent to which vaccination prevents infection or transmission of the disease," according to Ryan.

COVID-19 Surge in Europe Driven by Summer Travel, Ease of Restrictions

The recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Europe is mostly attributed to mass summer travel and ease of restrictions, Vujnovic added.
The WHO has recently stated that the epidemiological situation in the European region remains mixed. The region has 64 million confirmed cases and some 1.3 million deaths.
"In the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region (to which Russia also belongs) – we have seen an increase in cases over the past two weeks in 28 countries (out of 53)," Vujnovic, who is one of the key speakers at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) which opened in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Thursday, said.
"The increased summer mobility" as well as "relaxation of public health measures including lower compliance with measures in place" are thought to be the reasons together with the prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, she added.
A passenger arrives at terminal D of Miami International Airport after heavy rains, as Hurricane Elsa moves towards south Florida, in Miami, U.S. July 2, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.07.2021
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"However it is assessed and reported by countries that the EUL [Emergency Use Listing Procedure] listed vaccines have almost similar effectivity as before against serious disease and death, however, the situation is closely monitored by all national authorities and shared with WHO," the official noted.
Speaking about the COVID-19 situation in Russia, Vujnovic said that the WHO receives daily information on the number of new cases and deaths from all member states.
"Based on these national data we see that over the last two weeks the number of new cases decreased by 11%. The reproductive number is around 0.96 which speaks about reduction i.e. going down from the peak," she added.

Lambda COVID-19 Strain Under Observation as Variant of Interest

 The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor the Lambda strain of COVID-19 as a variant of interest, Vujnovic stressed.
The WHO classified Lambda as a variant of interest in June. First identified in Peru, it is now spreading rapidly across South America. In total, the cases of Lambda have been detected in about 30 countries, and experts fear that the strain could be more infectious and resistant to vaccines than the original virus.
"It is under observation as a variant of interest and for the moment there is no new information. Information on variants are regularly released at HQ media briefings," Vujnovic, who is one of the key speakers at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) which opened in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Thursday, said.
According to the WHO, a variant of interest (VOI) "has mutations that are suspected or known to cause significant changes" and/or "is circulating widely." A VOI becomes a variant of concern (VOC) if it spreads more easily, causes more severe disease, or decreases the effectiveness of known tools, including vaccines.
When asked about the danger of the spread of Lambda in Russia, Vujnovic replied that the country has a comprehensive system of surveillance, including health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, the State Research Center Vector in Novosibirsk and the Smorodintsev Research Institute of Influenza in Saint Petersburg. They are doing genetic sequencing and are in the WHO network, so they share data on variants identified through genetic sequencing to GISAID, an initiative that promotes the rapid sharing of information on all influenza viruses and COVID-19, she explained.
"According to information available at the moment WHO has not received information on identification of lambda in the samples taken in Russia, however, I might not be aware of the latest data, thus for precise information please contact Rospotrebnadzor," the official noted.
The sixth edition of the EEF, which is taking place from September 2-4 at the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, is aimed at developing business ties and attracting national and international investors to Russia's Far East. This year, the forum is being held in a hybrid format.
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