Coronavirus vaccine could be ready in 18 months: WHO chief

In a photo from April 13, 2016, a nurse prepares a vaccine to be given to a child in a hospital in Beijing.
In a photo from April 13, 2016, a nurse prepares a vaccine to be given to a child in a hospital in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that vaccines for the new coronavirus could be available in 18 months, as it warned that the virus could create havoc in countries with weaker public health systems.

The disease now has the official name Covid-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

Under the guidelines of the WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the name for the disease has to avoid references to a geographic location, an animal, an individual or group of people, Dr Tedros said.

"Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising.

"It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks," he added.

Despite the ongoing global research effort, the WHO chief estimated that it could take 18 months for the first Covid-19 vaccines to be ready.

While reiterating that now is a window of opportunity to fight the disease as most of the cases have so far remained in China, Dr Tedros also expressed his concerns that the virus could spread to countries with weaker public health systems and create havoc.

He said all countries should be "as aggressive as possible" and not allow the virus space for regional transmission.

At Tuesday's briefing, the WHO also announced that it will initiate a United Nations crisis management team against the virus, bringing in other UN agencies.

To fast-track global research on the disease, the WHO coordinated a two-day research and innovation forum in Geneva from Tuesday which gathered about 400 scientists and researchers, as well as 25 funders, to discuss a priority research agenda.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the forum was fortunate to have doctors from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention to present online research data already initiated in China. "Early data sharing really helps save lives," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Coronavirus vaccine could be ready in 18 months: WHO chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe