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False claims that pandemic treaty abolishes nations’ sovereignty and allows WHO to impose health policies circulate on social media

Posted on:  2024-06-13

Key takeaway

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed shortcomings in pandemic preparedness and response in countries around the world. The pandemic accord and recent amendments to the existing International Health Regulations (IHR) are aimed at improving future responses to pandemics. The work and negotiations on both the accord and the IHR amendments have been led and are decided by WHO Member States, which comprise all members of the United Nations (except Liechtenstein), the Cook Islands, and Niue.

Reviewed content


Countries that sign pandemic treaty cede their sovereignty to the WHO, allowing WHO to control domestic policies, force vaccination, lockdowns, and arrest of vaccine opponents

Source: The People’s Voice, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, 2024-06-06

Verdict detail

Factually inaccurate: The writing of the pandemic accord was initiated and is being led by WHO Member States. It doesn’t give the WHO any power to impose health policies on signatories. Neither the accord nor the recent IHR amendments contain language supporting claims that signatories lose their sovereignty or that the WHO can control or impose policies on countries.

Full Claim

Countries that sign pandemic treaty cede their sovereignty to the WHO, allowing WHO to control domestic policies, force vaccination, lockdowns, and arrest of vaccine opponents


Conspiracy theories surrounding the World Health Organization (WHO) pandemic treaty have been rife in popular discourse. For instance, some websites, as well as politicians, have alleged that countries that sign the treaty would lose their sovereignty, enabling the WHO to dictate health policies such as forced vaccination.

One claim rooted in such conspiracies began appearing in early June 2024, as seen in these Instagram posts claiming “194 WHO Countries Agree to Arrest Citizens Who Oppose Bird Flu Vaccine”. At the time of writing, the accounts that published these posts have tens of thousands of followers.

The claim was originally published in this article by the website The People’s Voice (formerly Newspunch), which has a record of publishing false information. This claim is no different, as we will explain below.

What the pandemic treaty is—and what it’s not

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed significant shortcomings in pandemic preparedness and response in countries around the world. To address these shortcomings and ensure improved readiness to pandemics, the 194 Member States of the WHO—comprising all members of the United Nations (except Liechtenstein), the Cook Islands, and Niue—established an intergovernmental negotiating body that would lead the process of writing a pandemic accord.

On the WHO website, a Q&A page on the accord explains that its aim is to “build resilience to pandemics”, “support prevention, detection, and responses to outbreaks with pandemic potential”, and “ensure equitable access to pandemic countermeasures”.

The page clarified that the writing process “was launched by, is being led fully by, and will be decided by WHO’s Member States”.

A working draft of the accord, dated 27 May 2024, contains language affirming countries’s sovereignty and their power to determine their own health policies, including statements on “the principle of the sovereignty of States in addressing public health matters” and “the sovereign right of States over their biological resources”.

Article 24 of the draft states:

“Nothing in the WHO Pandemic Agreement shall be interpreted as providing the WHO Secretariat, including the WHO Director-General, any authority to direct, order, alter or otherwise prescribe the national and/or domestic laws, as appropriate, or policies of any Party, or to mandate or otherwise impose any requirements that Parties take specific actions, such as ban or accept travellers, impose vaccination mandates or therapeutic or diagnostic measures or implement lockdowns.”

Finally, each country can decide for itself whether to sign the accord, to opt out, and to register objections to specific parts of the accord. WHO Member States will also decide whether the accord is legally binding.

But even if the accord became legally binding, there would be no legal consequences for signatories who fail to adhere to its terms or violate it, since the WHO has no power to enforce compliance with the document.

Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who’s been involved in the treaty’s draft process, told Associated Press that no compliance mechanisms have been written into the draft. He also said most of the treaty’s language emphasizes what signatories “should” do, not “must” do.

WHO lawyer Steven Solomon addressed concerns about the accord in this YouTube video.

While the accord was originally intended to be finalized by May 2024, negotiations over its more contentious parts, related to issues such as intellectual property and health equity, have delayed its completion. The intergovernmental negotiating body established by WHO Member States is expected to submit the final draft for consideration in May 2025, or earlier if possible.

Accord doesn’t allow the WHO to force vaccination or lockdowns on citizens, nor does it mention arrest of vaccine opponents

Fact-checking groups at PolitiFact and USA Today tackled false claims that the pandemic accord enables the WHO to forcibly vaccinate people and implement lockdowns. As these groups pointed out, the working draft contains no language or terms that substantiate such claims.

Likewise, the claim by The People’s Voice that WHO Member States have agreed to arrest opponents of bird flu vaccination is baseless. According to its article, this measure is ostensibly present in the recent amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR).

For context, the IHR is distinct from the pandemic accord. It’s a legally-binding document that “defines countries’ rights and obligations in handling public health events and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders”. The IHR was first adopted in 1969 by the World Health Assembly (WHA) in response to disease outbreaks in Europe. The WHA is the decision-making body of the WHO, comprising delegates of WHO Member States.

The IHR was last updated in 2005 following the SARS outbreak that spanned from 2002 to 2005. In May 2022, the WHA established a working group—led by Member States—to consider amendments to the IHR in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHA also invited Member States to propose amendments.

Following negotiations, Member States agreed to the package of amendments, which was then adopted by the WHA on 1 June 2024. The amendments are laid out in this document. No language in the amendments, or the pandemic accord for that matter, supports the claim by The People’s Voice. Moreover, while legally binding, this didn’t deter countries from disregarding the terms of the IHR during the Ebola outbreak, for instance[1]. In practice, the WHO has no power to police state compliance with the IHR.


In summary, WHO Member States initiated the writing of the pandemic accord and continue to lead this process. Furthermore, the accord establishes that Member States determine the health policies they wish to enact, not the WHO.

And even if signatories of the accord fail to abide by its terms, the WHO has no power to enforce compliance or to impose consequences for non-compliance. These facts contradict the narrative that the accord is a means for the WHO to control domestic policies and assert authority over countries.

Conspiratorial claims that the accord would allow the WHO to forcibly vaccinate people or impose lockdowns in countries, or that amendments to the IHR stipulates the arrest of bird flu vaccine opponents, are baseless. Neither the current draft of the accord nor the recent IHR amendments contains language substantiating such claims.


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