Opinion: Decoding the WHO’s New Pandemic Treaty

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The latest iteration of the new international World Health Organization (WHO) pandemic treaty (AKA “pandemic agreement” or pandemic accord”) will be finalized in May 2024 by an “Intergovernmental Negotiating Body” at the World Health Assembly. Concerns have been raised regarding the original draft, which contained binding language regarding invasive global response mandates, including health surveillance, travel restrictions (vaccine passports), and potential quarantines.

Since the treaty was announced, there's been considerable pushback. Several thousand Japanese activists marched near Higashi-Ikebukuro Central Park in Tokyo on Apr 13, 2024, denouncing the International Health Regulations (IHR). The IHR, a legally binding instrument in the WHO pandemic preparedness treaty, creates rights and obligations for 194 countries, including "surveillance systems" to detect acute public health events.

The current IHR draft would allow the Director-General of the WHO or Regional Directors to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (or the potential for one) without meeting any specific criteria (see Article 12 of the document). The WHO would then assume management of the emergency and issue binding directives to specific states. Opponents argue that there should be a more tiered, less binary approach.1

In response to these concerns, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced S. 444, entitled “No WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty with Senate Approval Act," and Senator James Risch (R-ID) introduced S.Res.81 – “World Health Organization Pandemic Treaty Implementation Resolution” prohibiting any international agreement drafted by the WHO from being legally binding until the Senate ratifies the agreement as a treaty.

Additionally, four international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Commission of Jurists, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed concerns that the current draft. In a press release, HRW wrote that the draft fails to “enshrine core human rights standards protected under international law, most notably the right to health and the right to benefit from scientific progress." 

Before going into specifics, a few questions come to mind. Why are we (as a collective) empowering a non-governmental organization (NGO) of unelected and unaccountable “officials” to direct an international pandemic response? Why the race to get this signed? How often do naturally occurring pandemics strike? (The literature varies from every 60 years to every 20 to 30 years. However, there are researchers who believe that “zoonotic outbreaks” will become more frequent due to the expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations.) And why does it take three years to withdraw from the WHO pandemic treaty? (p. 27 of the document). Is there any conflict of interest with regard to those who fund the World Health Organization? Has it outlived its original purpose? What exactly is “pathogen access and benefit sharing?”

On the surface, the treaty seems like an innocuous plan for enhancing global cooperation and coordination in combating influenza pandemics to protect public health worldwide. It’s aimed at improving global preparedness and response to pandemics. It tries to establish guidelines for the sharing of flu viruses and access to vaccines and other medical countermeasures during pandemics, in addition to promoting equitable access to vaccines and other resources like data sharing and collaboration among countries. However, the devil is in the details.

Any reasonable lawyer will suggest that specific language within any legal document is open to interpretation. In its current form, the treaty could pave the way for a repeat of the tragic failures during the COVID-19 pandemic where natural immunity was summarily dismissed. 

Chapter II, Article 4, pandemic prevention and surveillance refers to the “Conference of the Parties” where they “may adopt, as necessary, guidelines, recommendations and standards, including in relation to pandemic prevention capacities, to support the implementation of this Article.” How is the “Conference of the Parties” chosen? Do they randomly choose volunteers? Does the Chair of the WHO take part in the selection process?

Implementation of some of these approaches can affect all of us. For example, paragraph 3(b) states that “Each Party commits to progressively strengthen pandemic prevention and coordinated multisectoral surveillance, taking into account its national capacities, including through community-based early detection and control measures: leverage community capacities, networks and mechanisms to detect unusual public health events and contain them at the source.” The term “control measures” can be interpreted to mean mandatory lockdowns and “control them at the source” can translate into quarantining individuals or entire communities.

"Pathogen access and benefit sharing" in the WHO pandemic treaty refers to the process of sharing samples of viruses or pathogens (like the flu virus) among countries and ensuring that the benefits derived from studying these pathogens are shared fairly. To put it simply and somewhat cynically, there's a huge amount of money to be made through a future outbreak, and “profit distribution” assists governments in maintaining the same narrative. Article 18 outlines “countering and addressing” misinformation and disinformation, yet there’s nothing in the document about limiting injury and damage to individuals and populations.

Besides the vaccine manufacturers, those heavily invested in major pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccines should not be major funders of an organization coordinating a pandemic response document. Yet, Bill and Melinda Gates are responsible for 88.46 percent of the World Health Organization’s philanthropic funding 2 and earned a cool $500 million in vaccine-related investments. The term “vaccine industry” is being referred to in both business and research literature,3 demonstrating a great interest in the future of a very lucrative new enterprise while we’re still recovering from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Many healthcare professionals lost their jobs due to maintaining their personal autonomy, and we can’t afford to have future draconian measures used against us.

In the digital age of widespread international communication, the necessity of an overarching treaty like this is questionable at best, with concerns raised about its potential to lead to technocratic globalization and tremendous personal and economic damage. Concentrating power in any area—be it commerce, energy, banking, or health—typically results in negative outcomes for the general population. 

As the treaty's finalization approaches, it's crucial to carefully consider its provisions and implications to protect global health while upholding fundamental rights and principles. Article 3, under "Principles," outlines six statements regarding the implementation of its provisions. One of these statements emphasizes "the sovereign right of States to adopt, legislate, and implement legislation within their jurisdiction, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the general principles of international law, and their sovereign rights over their biological resources." Given this statement, it remains prudent for the United States to refrain from signing the document until it undergoes thorough legal scrutiny.



  1. Wilder-Smith A, Osman S. Public health emergencies of international concern: a historic overview. J Travel Med. 2020 Dec 23;27(8):taaa227. doi: 10.1093/jtm/taaa227. PMID: 33284964; PMCID: PMC7798963.
  2. https://open.who.int/2020-21/budget-and-financing/flow accessed 4/22/24.
  3. Douglas RG, Samant VB. The Vaccine Industry. Plotkin's Vaccines. 2018:41–50.e1. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-323-35761-6.00004-3. Epub 2017 Jul 17. PMCID: PMC7151793.