Washington, Oct 15: Despite the global push for a COVID-19 vaccine, with dozens in clinical trials and hopes for initial inoculations this year, WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that speedy, mass shots were unlikely.
“Most people agree, it’s starting with health care workers, and front-line workers, but even there, you need to define which of them are at highest risk, and then the elderly, and so on,” Swaminathan said.
“A healthy young person might have to wait until 2022.”
Two candidates, from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca’s U.S. trial, are paused on safety concerns. Manufacturing billions of doses of an eventual successful vaccine will be a big challenge and authorities have to grapple with the hard decisions about who gets inoculated first.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned against any complacency in the coronavirus death rate, saying with the increasing number of cases, mortality would also rise.
While deaths globally have fallen to around 5,000 per day from April’s peak exceeding 7,500, Swaminathan said caseloads were rising in intensive care units.
“Mortality increases always lag behind increasing cases by a couple of weeks,” Swaminathan said during a WHO social media event. “We shouldn’t be complacent that death rates are coming down.”
The head of the World Health Organization earlier warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the pandemic, dismissing such proposals as “simply unethical.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity by vaccination. Tedros noted that to obtain herd immunity from a highly infectious disease such as measles, for example, about 95% of the population must be immunized.
Tedros said that too little was known about immunity to COVID-19 to know if herd immunity is even achievable.
WHO estimates less than 10% of the population has any immunity to the coronavirus, meaning the vast majority of the world remains susceptible.