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WHO pandemic accord doesn’t replace U.S. sovereignty
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A draft of a World Health Organization accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response will be discussed by international negotiators this month. A final version won’t be presented to member states for a vote until 2024.
The draft doesn’t enable WHO to dictate pandemic responses to the U.S. or any country.
Language in the draft says states have the sovereign right to manage their own public health responses.
World Health Organization member states are meeting this month to discuss a draft of a proposed international pandemic accord, one proponents hope will help strengthen the response to the next global health crisis.
But some social media users and conservative publications made false leaps about what would happen if U.S. leaders sign the accord. Their framing suggests that President Joe Biden would be giving away the country’s sovereignty to the WHO, allowing a foreign body to impose policies on the U.S. in a health emergency, such as mandatory lockdowns or vaccinations.
A headline in The Epoch Times read: "Biden Admin Negotiates Deal to Give WHO Authority Over US Pandemic Policies."
An Instagram user shared a screenshot of the headline in a Feb. 19 post, commenting, "That one world gov in the works … Nothing sus about it."
The Epoch Times article was echoed by the conservative Gateway Pundit and several social media posts.
These posts were flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
Here’s what is really going on.
The WHO’s Bureau of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body, which has delegates from each of the six WHO regions, recently drafted a proposed accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
The bureau’s negotiators, from all 194 member states, will begin discussing the draft in meetings from Feb. 27 to March 3. A final draft won’t be ready for consideration by member states until 2024.
The draft doesn’t give the WHO any power to eclipse U.S. sovereignty, experts said. The text makes clear that the sovereignty of nations is a guiding principle.
"The draft is best understood as an attempt to encourage better performance during pandemics by countries and WHO, as motivated by the commonly shared opinion that neither WHO nor most countries did well in the COVID-19 pandemic," said Jesse Bump, executive director of the Takemi Program in International Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The draft mentions sovereignty on two occasions. On Page 4, it says the accord reaffirms "the principle of sovereignty of States Parties in addressing public health matters, notably pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and health systems recovery."
Later in the draft, under "Article 4: Guiding principles and rights," it reads:
"Sovereignty – States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to determine and manage their approach to public health, notably pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of health systems, pursuant to their own policies and legislation, provided that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to their peoples and other countries. Sovereignty also covers the rights of States over their biological resources."
Even when the language is finalized, the WHO doesn't have the power to "make states do anything they do not want to do," Bump said.
Member states, including the U.S., will help determine what’s in the accord and decide whether to sign on to the final product, according to a Q&A on the WHO website.
Member states would also decide whether provisions in it would be legally binding, the WHO website said.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, helped draft the accord, and said it would not give the WHO any powers to dictate policy in the U.S. or anywhere.
"This narrative is so far from the truth that it is dangerous and malicious," said Gostin, who is also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law.
Gostin said the Biden administration is acting as a "good global citizen" but isn’t close to signing an agreement, and may never do so. It’s not yet clear whether signing the accord may also require Senate confirmation, he said.
Even if the U.S. signs an agreement, it "would not interfere with the sovereign right of the U.S. government to make decisions about pandemic measures in the United States," said Gostin, who said such decisions are for the Congress and public health agencies at the federal, state and local level.
Like any international treaty, it may technically be legally binding, but Gostin said the draft often uses the word "should," rather than "shall" or "must," something critics have said doesn’t give the treaty any real teeth.
"If it is truly mandatory, it is for rapid reporting of outbreaks, scientific sharing, and contributing to global equity, such as vaccine donations," Gostin said.
Bump said the draft shouldn't be thought of "as advocacy for quarantines or vaccinations." That's not what WHO does, he said.
An Instagram post claimed that Biden is negotiating a deal to give the WHO authority over U.S. pandemic responses.
A plain reading of the draft shows that upholding nations’ sovereignty is a guiding principle of the pandemic accord.
The goal is to help prevent and improve the global response to a future pandemic, learning from mistakes during COVID-19 and ensuring equitable access to vaccines, information and health care. We rate claims that Biden wants to cede U.S. pandemic authority to the WHO False.
CORRECTION, Feb. 22, 2023: Lawrence Gostin is director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. An earlier version of this fact-check misspelled his name.
Instagram post, Feb. 19, 2023
The Epoch Times, "Biden Admin negotiates deal to give WHO authority over US pandemic policies," Feb. 18, 2023
The Gateway Pundit, "END OF AMERICAN SOVEREIGNTY: Biden regime negotiates "legally binding" deal to give Chinese-backed World Health Organization full authority over US pandemic policies – No Senate approval needed," Feb. 19, 2023
The World Health Organization, "Zero draft of the WHO CA+ for the consideration of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body at its fourth meeting," Feb. 1, 2023
The World Health Organization, "WHO Member States agree to develop zero draft of legally binding pandemic accord in early 2023," Dec. 7, 2022
The World Health Organization, "Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response accord Q&A," accessed Feb. 20, 2023
Email interview, Lawrence Gostin, director of the the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, Feb. 20, 2023
Email interview, Jesse Bump, executive director of the Takemi Program in International Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Feb. 20, 2023
Nature, "What the WHO’s new treaty could mean for the next pandemic," Feb. 7, 2023
The BMJ, "Covid-19: WHO treaty hopes to overcome "catastrophic failures" of pandemic response," Feb. 14, 2023
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WHO pandemic accord doesn’t replace U.S. sovereignty
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