When 194 countries meet in May for the annual World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization intends to push health ministers to sign a pandemic treaty. Granting the WHO this power risks spurring a new pandemic.

The WHO got a lot of policies wrong on COVID, many of which would effectively be codified in the new treaty. The agency pushed lockdowns and vaccine and mask mandates and promised vaccines would prevent transmission. It consistently failed to show interest in key issues like COVID’s origin or how Sweden achieved such remarkable outcomes – notably half the U.S. death rate – without these draconian measures. And it foolishly believed China would be transparent with its data and control the virus.

It’s now widely known the Chinese government destroyed evidence that could explain the origins of the virus or exonerate it on charges of mishandling or releasing a lab-enhanced virus. Yet the WHO takes no account of this fact and is quite comfortable with censorship enforced by the regime. Perhaps it’s because the agency’s leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, comes from an authoritarian state and, while health minister of Ethiopia, he called three cholera outbreaks (2006, 2009, 2011) “acute watery diarrhea” in an effort to avoid scrutiny.

Imagine a plane crashed and the Federal Aviation Administration was not interested in the reason for the crash. Given that most new viruses come from China, and genetic-level research encouraging new pathogens is rife in China, we’re likely to see history repeat itself unless the WHO exercises stronger leadership in holding the country to account.

In the treaty text, the WHO claims to want transparency and to stop health misinformation. Yet clamping down on free speech, in addition to being unconstitutional, may prevent flows of new and more accurate information. Taiwan first alerted the world to the threat coming out of Wuhan, yet the WHO backed Beijing’s claim that COVID might have come from imported frozen food.

The treaty would also give the WHO the power to initiate lockdowns and mandates for masks, testing and vaccines. Yet data from several countries that followed quite different policies, such as Sweden, Taiwan, Germany and South Korea, show that other approaches were equally – if not more – successful. “Following the science” means encouraging debate, not shutting it down.


During the early pandemic, physicians tried many drugs to combat the infection and its symptoms, with varying degrees of success, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Encouraging trial and error and transparent communication about successes and failures is important, yet the WHO prematurely declared these medicines ineffective against COVID and even harmful.

COVID vaccines saved many lives, but they are not risk-free. Available evidence shows overall vaccine rates declining in the U.S. because the WHO, among others, shut down debate about the risks and limited benefits of COVID vaccines. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted in his testimony to the House select subcommittee on the pandemic that this heavy-handed approach is likely driving vaccine hesitancy.

There are many other lessons to learn from COVID, and there are a few limited efforts to do so. A United Kingdom government inquiry is looking into lockdowns, but like the WHO, it is avoiding most sensitive topics for fear of upsetting China and allowing many ministers to avoid blame for poor policies.

The U.S. government made some of the same mistakes as the WHO. Congressional oversight of U.S. agencies, policies and officials is also often slow and incomplete. But such oversight can and does happen, and changes are undertaken. We need that oversight now with thorough and fully transparent studies.

By contrast, oversight of U.N. bodies, including the WHO, is very weak, and the only real constraint is the threat to withhold funds. However, private actors, such as the Gates Foundation, provide much of its funding and for specific projects, so governmental threats of withholding general funds are becoming weaker. When then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the WHO, the agency carried on as before. But the U.S. has influence. It should only agree to grant the WHO new powers when it is sure the WHO is the correct body to have those powers and is equally sure the WHO can execute said powers fairly and effectively. For now, neither of those conditions has been satisfied.

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